A cyber defense war room was integrated for the first time in one of Israel’s large-scale national military exercises which took place last week. When he launched the drill, IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen, Gady Eisenkot noted the three main threats facing Israel: Hizballah’s vast missile arsenal, Palestinian terrorist attacks, and ISIS poised on two borders. He made only a cursory reference to cyber war, without elaborating.
Compared with the civilian sector, the IDF has been awarded high marks for the way it has grasped the dangers of cyber warfare, prepared for them and trained and activated personnel for the pursuit of countermeasures.
Appreciation of the peril has led the IDF to run two cyber warfare and defense divisions, one in the Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate’s elite Unit 8200 and another in its counterpart the C41 (Telecommunications and Signal) Corps.
debkafile’s military sources report that the new Cyber Defense Brigade has been given an MI brigadier general as commander
But the Achilles heel of Israel’s military system for combating the cyber threat, debkafile’s military experts note, is the division of its responsibilities between two separate branches.
Following a study led by Military Intelligence (MI) chief, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, which was presented in the summer of 2015 to the chief of staff, it was decided to place the IDF cyber warfare system under a command like the air, ground and sea arms.
But instead of merging the two specialized entitities, Eisenkot decided, in the interests of keeping the peace among his generals, to leave the separate units of the MI and the Signals corps in situ – at least in the first stage.
This decision, say the experts, is bound to mar the effectiveness of IDF operations – both against hostile computer systems and in the defense of the military’s own information networks.
To function effectively, offensive and defensive operations depend on a continuous stream of intelligence from every possible open, digital and human source, for the critical task of collecting technological and operational data to define and identify the peril.
MI is naturally best qualified for clandestine work. It has access to superior intelligence sources and materials and its personnel, moreover, attracts the most technologically skilled young people, who aspire to join its ranks and are ready to stay on for careers, after their discharge from compulsory service.
The Teleprocessing and Signal Corps certainly possesses exceptional skills in communication, encryption and information networks. But devolving on this corps a section of the counter-cyber war defense system will stand in the way of the IDF’s undivided focus on the defense of its operational and administrative computer systems. It will also hamper the armed forces’ cooperation with other bodies dealing with cyber defense, such as the Shin Bet internal security service and the Mossad. They are all used to cooperating with Military Intelligence; working with a separate cyber warfare body would be a stretch.
A single IDF cyber command, had the chief of staff approved a merger, would have had the added advantage of being able to pull together the plethora of unconnected agencies set up to protect the civilian sector against the very real threat of cyber attacks, such as the National Cyber Bureau, the National Operative Cyber Defense Authority, the National Information Security Authority and the cyber warfare departments of the Israel Police and the Shin Bet.
But first, the new IDF branch must get into stride.