Israel, Intelligence and Security

Israel, Intelligence and Security

Israel gained its independence following World War II after Britain ended its colonial mandate of Palestine. Jewish refugees and victims of the Holocaust immigrated to Palestine in order to create the Jewish homeland promised in the British Balfour Declaration. The influx of immigrants created tension in the Arab dominated region. The United Nations intervened, creating the Jewish state of Israel in the south, and Arab Palestine in the north. To ease hostility between the two factions, the city of Jerusalem, holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, was declared an international city. A series of wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors led to an expansion of Israeli territory, including gaining control of Jerusalem, and heightened animosity between Jews and Arabs in the region.

The Israeli Intelligence Community

Israel built its intelligence and security communities to ensure the survival of the precarious state. Israel's first intelligence forces were groups of special agents whose task was to locate Nazi war criminals and either assassinate them, or bring them to justice. The government then trained agents to spy on rival governments and militaries in the Middle East. By the 1960s, the Israeli intelligence service was one of the most well-trained, sophisticated, and effective intelligence services in the world.

Today, four primary agencies comprise the Israeli intelligence community. Israeli intelligence services are divided along traditional lines, but all Israeli intelligence officers receive military training due to the nation's policy of compulsory service.

The Center for Political Research. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs creates and implements Israel's foreign policy. The ministry supports and oversees the Center for Political Research, which monitors the political climate of the Middle East. The Center's mission is to collect and analyze information about political organizations, public political attitudes, and rival governments. Research analysts use openly available sources, as well as intelligence information, to advise the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister. The Center for Political Research also aids Israeli missions overseas, and advises allied foreign intelligence services on Middle East issues.

Mossad. The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks, more commonly known as the Mossad, is Israel's primary intelligence agency. Mossad is responsible for human intelligence and covert actions. Formed in 1951 to hunt for fugitive Nazi war criminals, the agency began as a collection of special forces units. To a lesser extent, Mossad maintains that organizational tradition today, and contains several small forces tasked with specific responsibilities and covert operations. Mossad task force agents assist with the movement of Jewish refugees out of hostile territories, attempt to infiltrate and sabotage Palestinian nationalist groups, and conduct counterintelligence operations.

In addition to numerous specialized forces, the Mossad maintains eight operational divisions. The Collections Department, Mossad's largest, administers Israel's extensive human intelligence network. The department focuses

Israeli nuclear spy Moredechai Vanunu, right, sits next to his lawyer during his trial in Beer Sheva in 1998 for revealing Israel's secrets. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS.
Israeli nuclear spy Moredechai Vanunu, right, sits next to his lawyer during his trial in Beer Sheva in 1998 for revealing Israel's secrets.

on foreign intelligence operations, conducting espionage under a variety of diplomatic and industrial covers.

The Political Action and Liaison Department coordinates Mossad activities and shares information with allied nations. These agents are usually stationed in Israel's foreign embassies.

Mossad's third largest division, the Research Department, processes all intelligence material collected by Mossad field agents. Researchers also produce detailed reports, using openly available sources, for use by Mossad agents, the military, and other government agencies. The Research Department is subdivided into fifteen desks, each overseeing information regarding a specific geographic location. A specially dedicated desk monitors nuclear issues, such as weapons proliferation and development.

Mossad employs propaganda and deception operations with the aid of the Lohamah Psichologit (LAP). Agents trained in computers and engineering staff the Technology Department. The department extracts data from stolen, damaged, or foreign information systems, while ensuring the security of Mossad systems.

Little is known publicly about Mossad's final department, the Special Operations Division, also known as Metsada. The group has the tacit permission to carry out assassinations and acts of sabotage against confirmed threats to Isreal.

Shabak. Shin Bet, or Shabak, conducts counterintelligence and internal security operations for the Israeli intelligence community. The agency focuses on domestic and regional intelligence operations, but maintains a network of personnel worldwide.

Three internal departments aid Shabak operations. The Arab Affairs Department maintains information on Arab terrorist networks, and conducts anti-terrorism operations. The Non-Arab Affairs department concerns itself with other nations, with special attention paid to Russia and Eastern Europe. Both agencies operate within Israel and abroad. The third Shabak department, Protective Security, is responsible for the protection of Israeli diplomatic missions abroad, as well as internal security at military, government, industrial, and scientific installations within Israel's borders.

Shabak is also a political espionage agency. The agency monitors extremist political groups. Scrutiny and surveillance of the political associations of foreigners living within Israel is an additional routine Shabak activity. The agency also possesses the authority to arrest and detain persons suspected of anti-government activity. The government attempted to keep the actions of Shabak from public view, but increased incidents of suspected brutality drew attention to agency operations in the 1980s. Despite a series of highly-publicized investigations that brought to light suspected Shabak practices (such as coercion, torture, and lying to the courts) the agency maintains the tacit consent of the Israeli government to employ special measures, including physical intimidation, to elicit information deemed urgently needed to protect Israeli security.

Aman. Israel's military intelligence community consists of numerous tactical intelligence units maintained by the individual branches of the Israeli Defense Force. A central agency collates, processes, and disseminates military intelligence information, as well as coordinates interagency operations. The Aman is an independent service, a peer of the army, navy, and air force. The agency produces reports for military and government use, acts as liaison between the military and government, coordinates the flow of information between civilian and military intelligence agencies, and assesses the threat of war.

Two sub-departments within the Aman assist agency operations. The Foreign Relations Department is the agency liaison with foreign military commanders and military intelligence services. The Sayeret Maktal, or Deep Reconnaissance Unit, conducts counter-terrorism operations.

Israeli State Security Today

Israel and its Arab neighbors entered into extensive peace negotiations in the 1990s. The U.S. president and secretary of state moderated peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On October 26, 1994, long-standing territorial disputes between Israel and Jordan were settled with the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian Treaty of Peace. The following year, an Israeli right-wing extremist who opposed peace negotiations with Arab states, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a driving force in the Israeli peace movement.

Limited progress continues to be made, with Israel withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000. Growing nationalism in Israel and Palestine, however, thwarted further negotiations. A resurgence of violence between the Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews in 2001 marked the beginning of the second Intifada.

The Israeli government and Palestinian Authority were set to attempt a new round of peace talks in 2003, but the outbreak of war in Iraq further polarized the two governments and postponed negotiations. In May, 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to the Middle East to call upon the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to disarm the militant factions that have attacked Israel. Powell also urged the Israeli government to ease its crippling blockade on Palestinian cities. Both measures are deemed vital to U.S. President George W. Bush's peace plan that calls for an end to Palestinian-Israeli violence, and the creation of a Palestinian state by the year 2005.



Sacher, Howard. A History of Israel: From Zionism to Our Time. 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Thomas, Gordon. Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad. New York: Griffin, 2000.


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