JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday denied a report by Washington-based news site Politico claiming that it had placed cellphone surveillance devices in sensitive locations around Washington, including near the White House.
According to the report, which cited three anonymous former senior US officials ‘‘with knowledge of the matter,’’ the equipment — devices that mimic cell towers, fooling cellphones into giving them their locations and identity information — was discovered some time ago.
However, Israel has faced no reprimand or consequences for the alleged action, with the report suggesting the violation has been downplayed due to the exceptionally close ties between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The report comes at a sensitive time, with Israelis returning to the polls next week for a second general election this year as Netanyahu fights to hold on to his office. It also comes in a week where Trump appears to be breaking ranks with the Israeli leader’s unwavering narrative on Iran, indicating the possibility of meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Netanyahu has been fierce in his lobbying of Trump, urging him to pull out of the controversial 2015 nuclear pact with Iran and consistently pushing the United States for increasing economic sanctions against its regional archenemy.
Last week, Netanyahu spent a day in London, meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and visiting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to discuss, he said, Iranian entrenchment in the Middle East, particularly on Israel’s northern border. On Thursday, Netanyahu headed to Sochi, Russia, to meet with President Vladimir Putin.
Following publication of the Politico report, Netanyahu called the claims ‘‘an absolute lie.’’
‘‘There is a longstanding commitment and a directive from the Israeli government not to engage in any intelligence operations in the US. This directive is strictly enforced without exception,’’ said a statement from Netanyahu’s bureau.
Israel’s minister of foreign affairs and intelligence, Israel Katz, also denied that Israel had installed listening devices in the United States.
Charles Freilich, a former national security adviser in Israel and an analyst on US-Israel relations also said the report was likely false.
‘‘There are ‘dramatic’ reports of Israeli spying in the US every few years, when someone in the administration does not like Israel or an Israeli policy and tries to use lingering American suspicions, ever since Jonathan Pollard, to sabotage the relationship,’’ he said.
Pollard was a former US Navy analyst who was found guilty of spying for Israel in the ‘80s and spent three decades in jail. He was freed in 2015 by President Barack Obama, but his fate continues be a source of discomfort for Israelis, with the United States continuing to refuse his request to immigrate to Israel.