Israel professed itself to be “disappointed” but “not surprised” by the revelation Friday that the US and UK have been hacking Israeli air force drone and fighter jet communications for the past 18 years. Excuse me? If this came as no surprise to the Israeli authorities, why didn’t they do anything about it?
Israeli leaders brag endlessly about what a cyber powerhouse we are. And yet our most sophisticated communications, it turns out, have been continually decrypted for the best part of two decades. Tell me, did we not change the encryption process for 20 years? And if we did, was the encryption so amateurish as to present no challenge at all to American and British state hackers?
Some Israeli security sources have been strenuously asserting over the weekend that the breach is of little material consequence — in part because, after all, the US and UK are our allies, not our enemies. In truth, however, the revelations raise all manner of troubling questions and issues.
For a start, they make a mockery of the relentlessly hyped, supposedly unprecedented level of intelligence-sharing between Israel and the United States. In fact, the US clearly does not remotely trust Israel to provide it with full intelligence cooperation. (On Sunday we learned the US and UK even reportedly spied on our missile defense tests.) In fact, the US routinely engages in espionage against the Jewish state. In fact, the US would have known in real time if Israel had gone ahead with its much-threatened strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. One can only wonder how the US, opposing any such strike, would have acted — what practical steps it would have taken — when its spyware told it that the Israelis were gearing up to attack.
The very fact that we’re all now aware of the spying underlines another deeply disturbing aspect of the case. Those clever Americans and Brits thought they were extracting Israel’s secrets for their own internal state interests. Instead, however, it now turns out, the US intelligence vaults were wide open too — open to penetration by the likes of Edward Snowden. So it’s not just US and UK intelligence that can now see classified Israeli air force footage and communications. Whatever Snowden got hold of is now out there for all the world to savor.
Finally, if the US and UK can breach top-secret Israeli military communications, presumably hostile forces can too. Years after we all patted ourselves on the back for the ostensible sophistication of the Stuxnet virus that sped up Iran’s centrifuges, sending them crashing into each other and apparently delaying Iran’s nuclear weapons progress by several months, it’s an entirely safe bet that Tehran has been dedicating itself assiduously to mastering the dark art of cyber warfare. With Israel at the top of its list of targets.
If Israel can’t protect its most sensitive information from its friends, one dreads to imagine the degree of our vulnerability to our enemies
In 1997, Hezbollah hacked into a non-encrypted Israel drone feed and was consequently able to ambush members of the IDF’s elite Shayetet 13 naval unit on a raid into Lebanon, killing 12 Israeli soldiers. That the feed was unencrypted in the first place was a scandal. That the encryption procedures introduced in the wake of that disaster were self-evidently utterly inadequate is a fatally bad joke.
If Israel can’t protect its most sensitive information from its friends, one dreads to imagine the degree of our vulnerability to our enemies.
Cat and mouse on the Gaza border
The great allied decryption scandal was not the only story this weekend suggesting a profound malaise in our security apparatus.
Barely 18 months since we were last dragged into a war with Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers have regained their confidence about going to war with us again. Their former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh gloated on Friday that rocket development has proceeded apace — as we know from the incessant instances of Hamas testing its rockets with launches into the Mediterranean — and that tunnel digging is making unprecedented progress.
For all the promises that sophisticated, super-start-up Israel would find an answer to the terror tunnel threat, Israel again now finds itself playing cat-and-mouse on the Gaza border. History repeating itself as dangerous farce, the residents of Israel’s Gaza-border communities again feel the ground shaking beneath their feet as Hamas’s tunnelers penetrate beneath them.
In the last war, Hamas failed to make maximal use of its cross-border tunnels. It failed to send the hundreds of gunmen it envisaged into Israel, to capture an army base, kibbutz or moshav, and utterly re-engineer the balance of power between us. It has since worked relentlessly to better its chances of pulling off a shattering attack at the start of a new round of conflict. And Israel? Israel never got around to so much as allocating the budget for the technology to devise an Iron Dome-style tunnel remedy.
Meanwhile, France has come up with a program for restarting peace talks, backed by the threat that it will recognize a Palestinian state when that effort fails, as it inevitably will: If you tell the Palestinians you’ll recognize their state if peace talks go nowhere, that’s a veritable incentive for Palestinian obduracy — as the French surely know.
Maybe if the prime minister showed a willingness to call a formal halt to settlement expansion in areas Israel does not envisage retaining under any permanent accord, his intermittent assertions that he backs a two-state solution would carry more international credibility, Israel’s continuing slide into international isolation might be slowed, and he’d have more success persuading the likes of France that it’s not so easy to partner the right-of-return-demanding, Jewish history-denying, terror-inciting Palestinian leadership to statehood without putting the Israeli state at risk.
It would make an amusing ending to say, after Netanyahu’s tripartite summit last week, that at least we have Cyprus. Except it is from a Royal Air Force installation in the Troodos Mountains, near Mount Olympus, that the US and UK have been reading our air force communications. So Cyprus — or more accurately its American and British tenants — would appear to have us.