Major General Herzl “Hertzi” Halevi, head of Military Intelligence, told a closed lecture on Thursday that Israel and Iran are already engaged in a technological war, in which the Iranians are rapidly reducing Israel’s advantage, Ha’aretz reported Sunday. In regard to the recent wave of terror, Halevi said that if the videos showing stabbing attacks distributed over the social networks existed in 1948, Israel would never have won the War of Independence. He also confided he recently had cancelled a military intelligence operation at the last minute because of a letter he received from a junior officer in Unit 8200, Israel’s cyber spy agency.
Halevi said that the tasks faced by Israel’s Military Intelligence are becoming harder every day. Twenty years ago, he said, when his unit scored a major intelligence coup, “we were fixed for the next five to seven years.” But nowadays, “you may have struggled very hard, invested, put people’s lives at risk, did all kinds of moves, you retrieved something, but at the speed with which our world lives and the speed at which technology is changing,” the expiration time of your discovery is shortened a great deal.
The Military Intelligence chief gave as an example the efforts to gather intelligence on ISIS: “You see those guys from [ISIS] with their djellabas and such, but they are using top technology. This is not homing pigeons, these are the most advanced communication systems with the most complicated encryptions — now go deal with it. And it changes every day.”
Halevi noted that in this new milieu, junior soldiers and officers have more influence on decision making, using as an example a recent anecdote: “We were in a dilemma as to whether or not to carry out an operational maneuver somewhere,” he said. “We were at the moment just before this thing goes up to the Chief of Staff for a decision, and we had to decide — should we or shouldn’t we go ahead with it. Just then one of my officers entered my office and said to me, ‘Listen, I want you to read this, it’s a letter from, a SIGINT (intelligence-gathering by interception of signals) officer from unit 8200.”
Halevi continued: “He is a Major. He writes a letter to the commander of 8200 and to the chief of Military Intelligence, saying, ‘Listen, I think you’re making a mistake.’ It was just five minutes before making the decision. I could have not read it had it come a minute later, after the conversation with the chief of staff. Indeed, this shows the ability of [junior staff] to influence decision making at the most critical moment.”
As to the Iranian threat, the Military Intelligence chief said, “If you ask me whether we will have a war with Iran in the next 10 years, I would give you a surprise answer — we already are at war with Iran. We have a technological war with Iran. Our engineers are fighting the Iranian engineers — today. And it’s going to become more and more significant.”
Halevi said that the technological battle between Israel and Iran is over intelligence gathering on the weapons held by each party and their military capabilities. He was pessimistic regarding the trend of that technological war. “Today we have an advantage,” he said, “but Iran gradually closes the gap. Since 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the number of universities and the number of students in Iran has grown 20 times. Ours have grown by 3 and a half times.”