By Kit Klarenberg – Oct 13, 2023
When the Palestinian resistance breached all of Israel’s security boundaries last week, Tel Aviv was caught with its pants down. How can such a stunning intel failure not impact the country’s cyber intelligence sector and sales?
The sheer scale and intensity of the Palestinian resistance’s Operation Al-Aqsa Flood took Israel and the world by surprise last week. Even seasoned western intelligence agency veterans, who possess intimate knowledge of Israel’s surveillance capabilities, struggled to provide any plausible explanation for the glaring security gaps.
Academics with decades of research on the conflict, also admitted they are none the wiser: “Honestly I have no f’ing clue what’s going on. What this means. Or where this heads. Literally anything is possible,” tweeted an Associate Fellow at “the world’s oldest and the UK’s leading defense and security think tank,” the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
US officials were notably evasive when asked if this amounted to an epic “intelligence failure.” Mainstream news outlets openly pondered how Tel Aviv could have missed the Palestinians’ elaborate plans while conspiracy theories quickly spread online to suggest that Israel may have intentionally allowed the incursion to occur – as if the Occupation state ever required an excuse to pulverize Gaza.
“There’s no way, in my view, that Israel did not know what’s coming…Something is very wrong here…This surprise attack seems like a planned operation on all fronts,” remarked one former Israeli intelligence officer.
An unprecedented security failure
A Financial Times report on the fiasco alleged that Israel “has built the most formidable intelligence service in the region and established a network of informants throughout the Palestinian territories, as well as in hostile neighbors” such as Iran, Lebanon, and Syria.
Yet, despite this apparently formidable fifth column and Tel Aviv’s construction of “a high-security barrier around Hamas’ stronghold in hemmed-in Gaza – buttressed by motion sensors and extending deep under the ground” – hundreds of Palestinian fighters were able to breach those defenses without difficulty.
This they did from multiple fronts, using boats, tunnels, motorbikes, and paragliders, infiltrating ten occupation army bases, and killing hundreds of sleeping Israeli troops.
Al-Aqsa Flood involved arranging multiple rocket launch systems, ground forces, vehicles, and other equipment in sensitive positions in advance of its execution, leaving resistance fighters and their equipment exposed to surveillance from assorted angles, yet they were neither detected nor intercepted.
Tel Aviv has invested billions of dollars in constructing its reputation, and has routinely boasted in the years prior that it was among the most heavily fortified and defended countries in the world.
In the event, the technology was rendered totally useless, their extensive constituent cameras, sensors, and other systems not identifying the attack or perpetrators. Meanwhile, drones blitzed automatic machine guns and electronic guard towers, as the Palestinian resistance blew up fences and entered into Israel.
As one Haaretz reporter lamented:
“Even if all of the Gaza Strip is destroyed (and there is no need for this), and even if the heads of Mohammed Deif, Khaled Meshal, Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and their associates roll in the alleys, this will not make up for the biggest security failure since 1973.”
Israeli military officials have admitted that a very serious discussion is required “down the road” on what went wrong, but claimed this would follow the counteroffensive against Gaza, whenever that genocidal thrust ends. “We’ll talk about that when we need to talk about it,” an army spokesperson evasively said.
But beyond the military and settler losses endured by the Occupation state, the broader psychological impact of this Palestinian guerilla operation is profound. And it comes on the back of two years of relentless, and often successful, foreign hacking operations that have penetrated Israel’s toughest firewalls across critical institutions – including the country’s Ministry of Defense.
Most recently, a hacking operation leaked embarrassing private photos of Ehud Barak, Israel’s former defense minister and prime minister, which spread widely across social media and horrified Israel’s political elite.
Impact on Israel’s tech sector
Last year, the Times of Israel reported that in 2021, the country’s overall cybersecurity exports were estimated at $11 billion.
In addition, 33 percent of cyber unicorn companies operate from Israel, and a whopping 40 percent of global private cyber investments have been funneled into the country, according to the Israeli government.
From Tel Aviv’s perspective, the exposure of their electronic surveillance and warfare systems as ineffective and vulnerable to guerrilla attacks is a serious blow to Israel’s “Startup Nation” brand, which relies heavily on its multi-billion-dollar tech sector – with cybersecurity at its core.
Just a few years back, in 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had boasted:
“Cybersecurity grows through cooperation, and cybersecurity as a business is tremendous…We spent an enormous amount on our military intelligence and Mossad and Shin Bet. An enormous amount. An enormous part of that is being diverted to cybersecurity…We think there is a tremendous business opportunity in the never ending quest of security.”
The push for cybersecurity supremacy permeates almost every area of Israeli society. Universities hone innovative new technologies and train future generations of cyber spies and security operatives, to be employed upon graduation by the welter of firms locally and abroad founded by veterans of Tel Aviv’s infamous cyber intelligence agencies, such as Unit 8200, which act as effective arm’s length divisions of the Israeli state.
Graphic videos showcasing Israel’s “surgical strikes” on Palestinian civilians and infrastructure are used as a marketing tool to promote their weaponry to foreign clients, while practical demonstrations of invasive surveillance tools like the notorious Pegasus have gained notoriety. Pegasus infects target smartphones, enabling the real-time harvesting of vast amounts of sensitive user data.
In recent years, revelations of foreign governments and security agencies being implicated in scandals due to their covert use of Pegasus have become disturbingly routine. This invasive tool was developed by the NSO Group, founded by a former Mossad operative.
A 2021 Carnegie Endowment investigation revealed that 56 different states had procured this technology, as well as other spyware and “digital forensics” innovations from Israeli competitors like Candiru, Cellebrite, and Cytrox.
Making a killing
As Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, documented in his 2015 book War Against The People, Tel Aviv hawking wares such as Pegasus to overseas customers generates an enormous amount of diplomatic goodwill, which is highly effective in stifling international criticism of Zionist barbarism towards Palestinians.
After all, that barbarism’s brutal efficacy has perversely become a unique selling point for Israeli killing apparatuses, surveillance “solutions,” and battle tactics worldwide.
Mere days before Operation al-Aqsa Flood commenced, Israeli media reported a “record-breaking spike” in countries buying Israeli cyber warfare and intelligence systems from 67 to 83 over 2022, and marketing licenses for these wares granted to 126 countries.
This followed a “dramatic decline” in 2021, precipitated by the exposure of widespread use of Pegasus by repressive governments, and NSO and Candiru being blacklisted by Washington.
It seems likely the events of recent days will also lead to a significant decline in the fortunes of Israel’s cybersecurity sector. Gaza is, by design, an open-air concentration camp, and in theory, nothing and no one gets in or out without Tel Aviv’s authorization and knowledge. However, this time, the supposed internal surveillance system failed catastrophically.
Resistance in a digital age
Ironically, one of the most intriguing explanations proposed thus far is that Palestinians utilized Huawei smartphones for their digital communications. The much-maligned Chinese company has faced sanctions from the US and its international allies, ostensibly for being associated with the Communist Party.
Yet it may be due to their refusal to insert backdoors into their technology and devices at the behest of western intelligence agencies.
It has been suggested that the satellite communication function of Huawei Mate 60 Pro, for instance, “allows the phone to make calls and transmit data without a network connection, thus avoiding the surveillance of Pegasus spyware.”
The model also uses the independent Harmony operating system and “adopts the latest security measures to effectively defend against Pegasus spyware attacks,” which can effectively avoid Pegasus spyware surveillance.
This refusal has now become a compelling, unique selling point for freedom fighters not only in the Occupied Territories but across the world.
Al-Aqsa Flood has not only been a humiliating security failure for Israel but has also raised questions about the efficacy of its vaunted security technology. The historic 7 October resistance operation could have far-reaching consequences, affecting the occupation’s reputation not only in the military domain, but in the business and economic ones too.
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.
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