114. Israeli Intelligence Services: One of the best in the world

In 1978, Israel and Egypt signed the ‘Camp David Accords’. Taking a step further, in March 1979, both the countries signed the Peace Treaty. However, for Israel, conflicts did not end. They continued but had changed the form from a ‘full-fledged conventional war’ more as operations against open and guerilla activities of terrorists and anti-national elements. It is here that Israeli intelligence is of utmost importance!

‘Spying’ is a concept known to the Israelites since ancient times. It also finds a mention in Jewish history. During the ‘Exodus’, when Moses took the Israelites with him from Egypt to the ‘Promised Land’ or the land of Palestine, he sent twelve of his spies to obtain a fair idea of what was in store for them in Palestine or Canaan, so says the Israeli history. Likewise, when the ‘Haganah’, the main paramilitary organization of the Jews was established in Mandatory Palestine to protect them from the Arab attacks, it had volunteers who rendered secret services to obtain information on the enemy through informal means. Thus, Israel was well-aware of the importance attached to having an intelligence corps.

Accordingly, in the year 1948, when Israel achieved independence, their first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion recognized and understood the extraordinary criticality of having intelligence services for newborn Israel, a country surrounded on all sides by enemy nations. Thus, he laid the foundation of modern intelligence services for Israel. Importantly, to avoid redundancy or duplication in information gathered by the intelligence agents or eliminate any lacunae in its analysis, he brought all the Intelligence Services under him only and streamlined their various units.

Israeli Intelligence, Spying, SIGINT, Mossad, agency, counterterrorism, Egypt, United States
Graduation Ceremony of Israeli Field Intelligence Corps

‘Aman’, ‘Shin Bet’ and ‘Mossad’ are the three of the most prominent agencies among Israel’s intelligence services.

Out of these, ‘Aman’, is a ‘military intelligence’ directorate. It was created in 1950 from within the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Then, most of those selected had previous experience of working for ‘Shai’, the intelligence unit of the Haganah. Although developed from the IDF, Aman is not a part of the Army, Navy or Air Force but is an independent service that assists and augments the three armed forces.

Like other intelligence organizations of any nation, Aman is responsible for gathering information from various sources, classifying it to identify the data critical to national security and analyzing it to present the classified intelligence before the Prime Minister. Aman also keeps an eye on the political and military movements of the enemy nations, spies on the enemy establishments, keeps watch on maritime activities in the Mediterranean Sea, gathers ‘Signals Intelligence’ using advanced electronic equipment, etc. Aman is the largest of the agencies among the Israeli Intelligence Community and is said to employ some 7 to 10 thousand operatives.

One of the specialized branches of Aman is ‘Unit 8200’. It is the cyber intelligence module of the IDF, a type of ‘listening unit’, it ‘keeps an ear to the ground’ for all kinds of information. It closely observes not only the conventional media like television, radio, newspapers but also the content published on the internet. Moreover, the unit is also responsible for collecting Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).

Most of the members of the unit are between the age group of 18 to 21 years. It is one of the most striking features of the unit. These youth easily handle advanced gadgets and systems that are in use at the unit.

Interestingly, the New York Times in 2017, published a piece of news about Unit 8200 cautioning the United States about some hackers who had managed to access sensitive information of the US military. Unit 8200 stands on a par directly with the ‘National Security Agency’ of the United States.

Israeli Intelligence, Spying, SIGINT, Mossad, agency, counterterrorism, Egypt, United States
IAI Heron is a UAV used by the IDF. It carries an array of sensors, including thermographic camera (infrared) and visible-light airborne ground surveillance, intelligence systems (COMINT and ELINT) and various radar systems

Another key arm of the Israeli Intelligence Community is the ‘Shin Bet’ or ‘Shabak’ having the motto “Defender that shall not be seen” or “the unseen shield”. Their motto literally means the guardian whose existence is invisible. To protect Israel from terrorism, espionage, sabotage, anti-national activities and intelligence leaks are responsibilities of the Shin Bet. For it, various human (HUMINT) and technical (TECHINT) sources are used to dig out information.

The Shin Bet works in a very secretive manner. However, as per several pieces of information that have appeared in various media, the Shin Bet is believed to have three wings – the Arab Affairs Department, the Non-Arab Affairs Department and the Protective Security Department. Out of these, the ‘Arab Affairs Department’ is responsible mainly for Arab-related counterterrorism and anti-sabotage activities. Their area of operations also includes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Non-Arab Affairs Department handles mainly the terror threats that emanate from the non-Arab world and pose a security risk to Israel. Besides, to secure government offices, embassies and consulates, facilities like airports, research establishments as also the high-value individuals in Israel is the duty of the Protective Security Department. Although a security agency, the Shin Bet is not a part of the Ministry of Defense. The Shabak chief reports directly to the Prime Minister of Israel.

However, apart from these two arms, the agency considered the most important among the Israeli Intelligence Community is ‘Mossad’. It is responsible for handling foreign intelligence. Mossad means the “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”. Essentially, it operates to gather clandestine intelligence, conduct covert national security operations and counterterrorism.

So, what exactly is Mossad, the agency that strikes fear into the hearts of enemies of Israel the world over?  (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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