For Israel´s elite army intel unit, errors of the past send a spying eye into the future (HAīARETZ NEWS) By Amos Harel 05/04/12)
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Recent turmoil in the Middle East, for which the name "Arab Spring"
has long seemed inappropriate, stressed Israel´s pressing need to
better understand its whereabouts. Intelligence specialists,
similarly to pundits in the media and academia, may have identified
some of the early signs, but didn´t predict the earthquake´s timing,
force, and consequences. Aside from the unbelievable pace of events
(until the revolution came to a screeching halt on Syria´s bloody
streets), the jolt also required a fundamental change in the way
intelligence is assessed.
When the regimes all around were, to varying degrees, dictatorships,
then most of what the Military Intelligence (MI) had to do was to
hone in on the map atop the pyramid, along with a small group of
generals, advisors, and family members. Tahrir Square changed all
that. Suddenly intelligence officials are speaking of nations, public
opinion, and social networks.
A considerable part of that challenge is being handled by a not-too-
big group of mostly young, extraordinarily intelligent researchers at
the research department of the IDF General Staff´s Intelligence
Division. But, in recent years, it seems that some of the most
influential, fascinating jobs the MI has to offer have been losing
their aura. While it´s too early to speak of a recruitment problem,
the research department is finding it harder and harder to fill its
ranks from its limited pool of conscripts.
One major opponent is 8200, considered the MI´s "central gathering
unit." The fact that not too many people know what exactly 8200, and
its many offshoots, does neither improves or decreases its standing.
The combination of geniuses, technology, as well as a long line of
unit veterans who have gone on to start or lead successful high-tech
firms is enough to draw the upper echelons of those qualified to
join. Another difficulty faced by the research department is
retaining some of its outstanding officers, especially those past
lieutenant and captain, for whom the lure of the civilian world seems
too great to ignore.
That´s probably why MI chief Aviv Kokhavi decided to hold a first-of-
its-kind meeting between of the department´s top researchers and
media representatives. Ten officers, including three female officers,
and one soldier, all ages 20 to 30 something, were rounded up in a
conference room at one of the IDF´s charmless buildings in Tel Aviv.
All of them came up in the MI´s various units. A few served for a
while in field positions as well. Some went to school as part of the
Academic Atuda [a military program allowing army recruits to attend
university before their service in exchange for serving as officers
in their field of expertise]. They are all very eloquent and seem
very knowledgeable in their prospective fields, which include
everything from Iranian politics, to economics, to rocket and missile
development in the Gaza Strip.
Colonel D., the department´s deputy head of estimation, told
Haaretz: "We get the best over here, and we still want to improve and
bolster the department´s standing. A lot is required from a good
researcher: cognitive ability, teamwork, forward thinking, eloquence,
argumentation, creativity. We don´t have enough media coverage to
draw all the recruits we want. And still, if there´s someone with
qualifications we requirethat wants to serve in the Paratroopers
Brigade, I´ll tell him to go there. And, by the way, that´s exactly
what happened with the IDF chief of staff´s son" (Benny Gantz´s son
recently left a MI position for Paratroopers´ boot camp).
In the past, many of the researchers were graduates of the
universities Middle East departments. Today, it has physics and math
graduates, since "the honors dynamics leads them there as soon as
high school, and since research requires analytical thinking."
Regional unrest dictated the adoption of new working methods. "The
light beams are directed at where the coin´s at, but the Middle East
is changing, and so we need new searchlights. We´re trying to develop
new conceptions that would allow wider outlook, more real time
monitoring," D. said.
Captain Keren, who researches Hezbollah, is impressed by the ability
to get a deep look into the enemy´s hidden areas. "[Hezbollah chief
Hassan] Nasrallah´s speeches may seem belligerent, but when you
understand the interior happenings you can get a fuller picture. A
few days ago he spoke, while we knew that a Hezbollah terrorist was
arrested for planning a bombing in Thailand, but the story was not
published yet. So, he´s talking, and I´m thinking the discomfort he´s
Major Ophir discussed the advantages of younger researchers, faced
with regional events. "The people going out to Tahrir Square are our
age. That world is being conducted in provinces and concepts which we
feel more exposed to."
Last year, the section headed by another Keren, a major specializing
in terror research, aided in the capture of the "Victoria" ship,
which was running arms from Iran to the Gaza Strip. "There´s some
tension," she said. "The mind´s dealing with it all the time, even
when you´re picking up the kids from kindergarten. But, you get a
phone at 9 P.M. and go back to the office, the family knows it´s not
about gratifying myself. When an inspection of the ´Victoria´ found
the missiles we estimated would be there it took me some time to
remember that it meant the disruption of a the kind of threat which
killed a relative of my husband´s in the Second Lebanon War [on board
the INS Hanit].
Lieutenant Yonatan spoke of a "huge increase in the Palestinian
ability to develop self-made rockets in Gaza. Ultimately, what you
need to do is to bring in a coordinate that´s a target for decision
makers. One of the challenges itís the assimilation of the arms
industry within the civilian population. You see a man who produces
weapons in the bottom floor, with his entire family living above him,
and it can go at any moment. We need a lot of information and
precision. For a site to become a target and enter the target bank,
it needs to be approved by about ten commanders."
The head of the MI´s research department, Brigadier General Itay
Baron, said "we´re placing a huge weight of responsibility on the
researchers. If they don´t understand something, we won´t know what´s
happening. What I expect them to say is what they think, to create a
debate that will confront their views with other opinions, to allow
us to better review reality."
It´s impossible to ignore the trauma of 1973´s Yom Kippur War during
the uncommon visit to the research department. At colonel D.´s room,
hangs a familiar picture in a prominent place. It displays the heads
of the research department during a mundane meeting, shortly before
the war broke out. All those names and titles are woven into the
pages of the Agarnat Report and in the countless books that followed.
D. thought there´s wasn´t any need to much explanation. The picture
was there as a reminder of the duty´s weighty responsibility, and of
the possible consequences of a mistake. "A few years ago I served at
the Syria branch and it was the eve of the Yom Kippur War. Not much
can be said: the chills get a hold on you." (© Copyright 2012
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