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Israel stole classified US information and used it to help congressional Republicans

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Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The Wall Street Journal's Adam Entous dropped a huge story Tuesday morning: Israel acquired classified US information while spying on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and leaked the stolen information about the emerging deal to American lawmakers in an attempt to sabotage the Obama administration's outreach to Tehran.

This is yet another disaster for US-Israel relations. But that's not because Israel acquired classified US information, which honestly isn't that surprising. What's really outrageous is that Israel used the information in a deliberate attempt to manipulate American politics.

No one should be shocked that Israel was spying on the talks. A certain degree of espionage is pretty par for the course in world politics, even among allies. Indeed, as Entous' story repeatedly makes clear, American officials expected Israel to snoop on them. In fact, according to Entous, the US found out about the Israeli spying because it was already spying on Israel:

The White House discovered the operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.

But there is a real scandal here, and that's Israel using stolen intelligence as part of a deliberate campaign of messing around with American partisan politics. That's why the White House is angry: "It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy," a senior US official told Entous.

If Entous' reporting is correct, the Israeli government used the leaked information to help Republicans build support for new sanctions among Democrats, which would be necessary to overcome Obama's veto. Israel was using stolen information to help Mitch McConnell and John Boehner foment a Democratic rebellion against the president.

This is the same reason Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress about Iran infuriated so many Democrats this month. The problem wasn't that Netanyahu was invited to Congress; it's that the speech was coordinated with Republicans behind the president's back in a deliberate attempt to undermine his Iran policy.

The spying/briefing allegations suggest the speech was part of a much broader campaign to help Republicans pass new sanctions, a particularly dangerous move by Netanyahu at a time when Israel is at risk of becoming a partisan issue in America.

Allies really aren't supposed to do this sort of thing. Playing partisan domestic politics — and doing it with classified information, no less — positions Israel as the Republican Party's ally, not America's. The fact that Republican interests line up with Israel's in this case doesn't justify crossing these lines.

None of this is to say the Netanyahu government has to just sit down and accept an American Iran policy it opposes. It's perfectly within bounds for Netanyahu to publicly oppose the ongoing negotiations in which international powers are seeking to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities in exchange for relief on its crippling economic sanctions. It's fine for Netanyahu to lobby the French, who have an important role in the negotiations, to push for more stringent limits on Iran's nuclear program. That's all normal international politics.

But Republicans' vote count in Congress isn't.

WATCH: 'Netanyahu's argument to Congress about Iran'

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