How the Israeli secret services have been changing

(In collaboration with Il Termometro – Blog di opinioni e discussioni)


When talking about the recent clashes between Israel and Hamas, which has been the braking news of the very last days, we should take into consideration a more decisive, although hidden, aspect, that is the role of the Israeli army and intelligence in it. In fact, the core mission of the services from Tel Aviv should be to intercept, understand, and foresee the counterpart’s moves. However, as for the Arab Spring, the formers were accused of not previewing it and, thus, the above mentioned Israeli intelligence had to undergo a process of restructuring. Nonetheless, while in the last few years, the budget for the army has remained stuck, the Israeli intelligence has grown in number and the investments in its favour have grown considerably. The secret services consist of three units:  the military, called Aman, the one specialised in domestic security, Shabak, and that in external security, Mossad.

The modernization of Aman has begun immediately after the second war in Lebanon of 2006. At the end the conflict, the weaknesses of the aforementioned unit emerged clearly: too much effort and investment was made in trying to analyse the local leaders’ intentions while scarce attention was paid in collecting the tactical information for the ground combats.  Thus, a new division was established: it was leaded by General, at the head of a brigade, and it was meant to function as an operative command for the internal bodies of Aman. Another General was put in charge of guiding the special operations. These two new figures – respectively the head of the operative division and that guiding the Special Forces – operate in parallel with the head of the 8200 unit for the cybernetic divisions and the head of the intelligence, both ranking as Generals of brigade.

This restructuration plan, called Aman operation, has a flagship, which is Aman in the web. This project has established a platform which would allow the various divisions of the army unit of the intelligence to intercommunicate one each other and with the several applications, which afterwards will be extended to the other bodies of the army.

Aman and the direction for the Development of War Means are making further efforts in the web information domain. One of the most ambitious projects is aimed at collecting information and data from the web. For this purpose, they have developed systems able to examine the various idioms in order to catch the nexus between words and get the hidden meaning, if valuable to the intelligence’s purposes. In this sense, the head of Aman, General Aviv Kochavi, declared at the beginning of 2014: “The use of the cyber dimension […] will bring almost unlimited possibilities. Thanks to the cyber, four people will be able to do the job that at least 40 did before […]”. Already starting from this year, hundreds of attacks were launched against Israeli organisations and a similar number was perpetrated against security bodies. Kochavi’s words hint that the cyber is meant to become a new military dimension similarly to the past when people understood that the air would have become a decisive front in every conflict.

Also in the Shabak, it’s the cyber era to define the changes agenda. Already in 2012 the SIGINT Department, (Signals Intelligence)-Cyber, was established. This is a defensive body aimed at protecting the national infrastructures – those between the Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula – from possible cyber-attacks.  In 2013 the Shabak raised from 50 to 81 the number of domestic structures under its protection. Among these, 30 are considered particularly at risk because, in case they are put out of order following to a cyber-attack, it could cause the paralysis of the country: for instance, if a hacker would take control of the central train system, he could easily cause accidents along the Israeli railways. 

A different issue concerns the bank system, which is considered world leader in the cyber security sector. Legally speaking, banks do not fall within the Shabak domain since they cannot furnish information on Israelis’ or foreigners’ accounts. However, the independent bodies in charge of the internal cyber defence of the financial institutes can ask the Shabak’s advice, and the latter must guarantee not to violate the bank clients’ privacy. Even Mossad, which is believed to be the best intelligence in the world, had to adapt to the cyber era, particularly after the 2009 attack to the Iranian reactor through the Stuxnet virus. In the Mossad case, the change was conceptual. In the past, the services responsible to the external security represented a sort of isolated island from the other units of the Israeli intelligence. Nowadays, on the contrary and for compulsory reasons, cooperation became the keyword of the inter-intelligence relationships. In the age of the unlimited and wireless information, the single units are forced to collaborate in order to obtain, in an effective and efficient way, the data they need form the internet.

In definitive, Aman, Shabak e Mossad have become aware that any email may have enormous relevance. Therefore, for all the above-mentioned reasons, the synchronisation between the different intelligence units has become an extreme necessity.


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