Army to establish unified cyber corps

The IDF decision aims to streamline offensive and defensive efforts and points to the rising potency of the threat

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

In a historic move indicative of the dangers and potency of the digital medium as a weapon, the commander of the Israeli army decided Monday to establish a new IDF corps responsible for all cyber activity.

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called the establishment of the new corps, to be headed by a two-star general and on par with the Navy and the Air Force, a matter of supreme importance that is becoming “more significant with each passing day.”

Cyber security is today dispersed throughout the army. The Military Intelligence Directorate handles offensive capacities while the C4I branch deals with protection. The new corps, subject to the approval of the defense minister and to be operational within two years, would bring the army’s cyber know-how under a single roof.

Nationally, the Shin Bet security service, Mossad, IDF and National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office operate without a unified and hierarchical cyber framework. This incoherence, coupled with Iran’s investments in the field and the fact that the threat can be launched by anyone, from anywhere, without any clear stockpiling of weapons in advance, has led some to voice concern.

“Massive cyber attacks, like the Egyptian onslaught on Yom Kippur,” are feasible, the commander of the IDF Cyber Defense Unit told The Times of Israel earlier this year.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony held in his honor in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony held in his honor in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2015. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We don’t need to be naive,” the unit commander said. “It’s simple” – the axis of Islamist resistance is constantly probing for chinks in the IDF’s armor; hence the rise of the rocket and missile threat. As that threat has been partially thwarted, he said, the tunnel threat, a dominant feature of the Gaza war, was pushed to the fore.

“In the coming wars,” he said, “especially those in the north, I imagine that the cyber capacity will be far more significant than in the past wars.

Col. (ret) Gadi Siboni, the director of the Cyber Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, wrote shortly after last summer’s war in Gaza that Iran’s progress in developing cyber weapons, as seen by the unprecedented offensives launched during the 50-day war, “is evidence of the beginning of a process in which cyber war replaces the classic terror as a central tool in Iran’s doctrine of asymmetric warfare.”

Cyber attacks would enable Israel’s enemies to strike the home front and are often easily deniable — two elements that are central to the Iranian approach to asymmetric warfare against Israel, Siboni wrote.

Iran, he added, is quickly and adroitly “bridging the gap” in cyber technology between itself and Israel.

Brig. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaking Thursday. (photo credit: Mitch Ginsburg/Times of Israel)
Herzi Halevi, during his time as commander of the IDF’s Galilee division. (photo credit: Mitch Ginsburg/Times of Israel)

Promptly upon taking command of the IDF in February, Eisenkot tasked Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevy, the commander of military intelligence, with heading a team that would examine ways to “improve the operational efficacy” of the army’s cyber teams.

In a nod to the infighting that will likely ensue, over both the prestige and funds of a cyber corps, the IDF Spokesperson’s statement said that the command would be set up initially “in parallel” in both the Military Intelligence Directorate and the C4I Corps before a final decision is made about from where the new corps should spring forth.

Deputy Chief of the IDF General Staff Yair Golan and Maj. Gen. Nimrod Shefer will head the planning and implementation committee.

“The establishment of the corps will allow the IDF to operate in a better way,” Eisenkot said, “and to give expression to the technological and human capital advantage that already exists today in the State of Israel.”

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