Shin Bet said to fear Russian and Iranian interference in upcoming election

Agency launches ‘Operation Defend our Democracy’ to thwart such attacks, is also concerned that Israelis themselves may rile up political discourse due to MKs escalated rhetoric

Election workers count ballots in Jerusalem on March 25, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
Election workers count ballots in Jerusalem on March 25, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

The security establishment ia reportedly concerned about the possibility of foreign interference in the upcoming Israeli election at the hands of Russian and Iranian hackers.

Accordingly, the Shin Bet security service has launched “Operation Defend our Democracy” in order to thwart potential attacks, Channel 12 said Friday in an unsourced report.

Such concerns by the Israeli security establishment are not new. Ahead of the first of two elections in 2019, then-Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman said he was “100 percent [certain] that Russia will intervene in the upcoming elections.”

The Kremlin, which the US found was involved in tampering with its election in 2016, subsequently issued a denial.

That same month, the US-based technology firm Vocativ revealed that hundreds of Iranian bots were working to increase social and political divisions among Israelis and drive a radicalization of political discourse online ahead of the April 2019 election.

The Shin Bet is concerned there will be similar attempts by foreign actors to rile up the political discourse ahead of the November 1 election.

However, the agency is also concerned that the discourse will be riled up by average Israeli citizens responding to the escalated rhetoric employed by politicians against their rivals. The Shin Bet fears that such rhetoric could even lead to violence.

Accordingly, it recently reached out to 10 Israelis warning them that continued use of such extreme rhetoric online would lead to their arrests.

Shin Bet director Ronen Bar also met recently with a number of senior rabbis in the national religious camp, urging them to use their influence to ensure that political discourse ahead of the election remains civil, Channel 12 said.

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