Netanyahu: Islamists use cyber-tech to ‘push humanity backwards’

Israel is the modern cyber-bulwark against groups that are medieval in outlook but modern in their methods, says the prime minister

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the CyberTech 2016 conference in January (Courtesy)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the CyberTech 2016 conference in January (Courtesy)

Cyber-security isn’t just about keeping hacktivists and hacker criminals at bay, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In remarks at the third annual Cybertech Conference Tuesday, Netanyahu lauded Israel’s cyber-security prowess as a bulwark against “the forces of medievalism.”

Those medievalists, the prime minister noted, “are led by the two forces of the militant Islam, those led by Iran on the extreme Shiite Muslim side and those led by Islamic State on the extreme Sunni Muslim side.”

But although medieval in philosophy, the Islamists on both sides are quite modern in their methods. “These militants are using the technologies that we use,” he said. Israel, he added, needs to be the counterbalance to that – a tech superpower that uses technology to advance humanity, not push it backwards.

Learning how Israel does that, as well as how it defends individuals, companies, and governments from more run of the mill cyber-threats like hackers who steal credit card information or breach databases, brought over 3,000 people to Cybertech 2016, an annual event organized by IsraelDefense magazine and academic, corporate, and government sponsors.

The event brings together leading multi-national corporations, start-ups, major Israeli companies, investors, entrepreneurs, and a bevy of speakers who discuss cyber-tech in all its aspects – technical, financial, national defense-oriented, and more. Among the speakers appearing along with Netanyahu are Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Yuval Steinitz; Science Minister Ofir Akunis, and MK Erel Margalit, who heads the Cyber-Security Lobby in the Knesset, along with ministers, governors, mayors, and other government officials from around the world, as well as executives from multi-national firms like Intel, Microsoft, IBM, and many others.

Already accounting for 10 percent of the sales in the world cyber-security business, Israel has become a world power in the area – but there’s no reason it cannot go further, Netanyahu said. At the first cybertech conference in 2014, Netanyahu set a goal for Israel to become “one of the five leading cyber powers in the world. We have achieved that, but we should strive to be the first.”

Although the focus was on Israel’s accomplishments in cyber-business, Netanyahu stressed the need for global cooperation. “There is a critical need for like-minded governments to have serious discussions about cooperation in the broader international realm,” he said.

“I do not seek to have a universal code, because it will work for cyber peacekeeping just like the UN works for international peacekeeping — it doesn’t. What we need is a meeting of international leaders to discuss what could be done among countries that want to maintain freedom and safety in their societies. We will then be able to establish international standards that will increase cyber-security. This is something that has yet to be done, but I’ve been speaking about this with world leaders.”

And the sooner the better, Netanyahu said – because beyond the usual annoyances and threats posed by run-of-the-mill hackers, the world now has to contend with medieval Islamist fanatics who have gone to some of the world’s best universities and are using the ultra-modern skills learned there to bring the world back to the dark ages.

“We have the possibility of what appears to be almost a limitless future. Yet at the same time we are facing another force that challenges modernity, and that force is a savage, early, and primitive medievalism that seeks to take our world back to the dark ages of humanity, over a thousand years ago,” said Netanyahu. “This is one of those few times in history in which the forces that seem to take humanity back are using some of the forces that take humanity forward. And this presents a greater challenge to us. Israel is at the forefront of modernity.”

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