Russia denies it is planning to interfere in Israeli elections

After Shin Bet warns of possible tampering by foreign nation, Kremlin says Moscow has no intention of trying to influence outcome of any country’s vote

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

The Kremlin on Wednesday said it had no intention of interfering in Israeli or any other country’s elections, distancing itself from suspicions raised by the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency who said earlier in the week that a foreign nation was planning to meddle with the vote.

Commenting on Israeli media reports on the Shin Bet statement, which were prohibited by gag order from naming the country allegedly involved, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow does not intend to interfere with elections in any country in the world, Russia’s Tass News Agency reported.

“It is out of the question,” Peskov said, without specifically referring to the warning by the Shin Bet agency chief, Nadav Argaman. “Russia has never interfered in elections in any country and has no plans to do it in the future,”

Peskov expressed a recommendation “to not read the Israeli media [reports].”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov in Moscow, Russia, April 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Late on Tuesday, the Shin Bet sought to reassure the public about the April elections after reports emerged of the warning issued by Argaman.

“The Israel Security Agency wishes to clarify that the State of Israel and the intelligence community have the tools and capabilities to locate, monitor and thwart foreign influence efforts, if there are any,” the Shin Bet said in a statement, using its official name.

Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A local television report had quoted the Shin Bet chief as having said Monday that a foreign state “intends to intervene” through cyberattacks in national elections on April 9.

Though Argaman’s statements were made during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University, Israel’s military censor barred from publication much of what he said, according to Hadashot TV news.

After the network reported on the gag order, the censor permitted some of Argaman’s comments to be quoted, though it continues to ban media from naming the country explicitly mentioned in his speech.

“I can’t say at this point for whom or against whom” the intervention will be, “but it involves cyber[attacks] and hacking,” Argaman was quoted as saying.

In further quotes carried by Hadashot, Argaman said he was “100% [certain] that [redacted foreign state] will intervene in the upcoming elections, and I know what I’m talking about, I just don’t know in whose favor.”

Argaman also indicated the impending cyberattack targeting Israel’s elections was not merely an assessment or expectation, but that the Shin Bet had concrete information pointing to a specific opponent preparing a specific attack, according to the report.

Following the TV report, Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin submitted a request to urgently convene the Knesset’s cyber subcommittee.

The Kremlin in Moscow, September 29, 2017. (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

Another opposition lawmaker called on Israel’s security services to prevent any foreign meddling that could sway the election results.

“We demand the security services make sure that Putin doesn’t steal the elections for his friend, the tyrant Bibi,” Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, said in a statement, referring to the close ties between Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The issue of foreign meddling in elections attracted attention following the 2016 US presidential campaign, during which, the American intelligence community has said, Russia interfered on behalf of Donald Trump.

Ahead of municipal elections in October, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said thousands of fake Facebook profile accounts created to spread false information about Israeli political candidates had been taken offline at the agency’s request, in the possible beginnings of a major attempt to influence Israeli voters.

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