The Israeli media reported on a “record-breaking spike” in the number of nations purchasing Israeli cyberwarfare and intelligence systems, from 67 to 83 in 2022, but a setback due to intelligence failure will likely cause Israel’s cybersecurity industry to face major losses.
Israel and the rest of the world were caught off guard last week by the sheer size and ferocity of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, launched by the Palestinian resistance. Even seasoned intelligence agency veterans from the West, who are intimately familiar with Israel’s surveillance capabilities, found it difficult to offer a convincing explanation for the obvious security flaws.
Researchers who have spent decades studying the conflict have also claimed they know nothing about it: “Honestly, I have no f’ing idea what’s going on. how this relates. or where it might go. Literally everything is possible, tweeted an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “the world’s oldest and the UK’s foremost defense and security think tank.”
When questioned if this constituted a monumental “intelligence failure,” US officials were noticeably hesitant. While conspiracy theories quickly spread online to suggest that Israel may have purposely allowed the incursion to occur, mainstream media outlets openly questioned how Tel Aviv could have missed the Palestinians’ intricate plans – as if the Occupation state ever required an excuse to obliterate 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.
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An unprecedented security failure
Israel, according to a Financial Times investigation into the incident, “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” including Iran, Lebanon, and Syria.
In spite of Tel Aviv building “a high-security barrier around Hamas’ stronghold in hemmed-in Gaza – buttressed by motion sensors and extending deep under the ground” and this ostensibly formidable fifth column, hundreds of Palestinian fighters were able to easily breach those defenses.
Using boats, tunnels, motorbikes, and paragliders, they attacked eleven facilities used by the occupation force, murdering hundreds of Israeli soldiers who were asleep.
Al-Aqsa Flood involved positioning numerous rocket launchers, ground forces, vehicles, and other equipment in risky locations before it was carried out, exposing resistance fighters and their gear to surveillance from a variety of angles but going undetected or unintercepted.
Tel Aviv has spent billions building its reputation, and in the past, it has regularly bragged about being one of the most fortified and well-defended nations in the world.
The numerous constituent cameras, sensors, and other systems of the technology were ultimately unable to identify the attack or its perpetrators, rendering it completely useless. While the Palestinian resistance torched walls and penetrated Israel, drones bombarded automatic weapons and electronic security towers.
As a reporter for Haaretz bemoaned:
“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.”
Officials from the Israeli military acknowledged that there would need to be a very serious conversation “down the road” about what went wrong, but they insisted that this would happen after the counteroffensive into Gaza, whenever that homicidal thrust finishes. A representative for the army evasively remarked, “We’ll talk about that when we need to talk about it.”
However, this Palestinian guerilla campaign has had a significant psychological impact beyond the military and settlement losses that the Occupation state has suffered. And it follows two years of persistent, and frequently successful, foreign cyber operations that have breached some of Israel’s most important institutions’ firewalls, including the Ministry of Defense.
Most recently, embarrassing private images of Ehud Barak, Israel’s former defense minister and prime minister, were revealed by a hacking operation. These photos quickly went viral on social media and shocked Israel’s political elite.
Impact on Israel’s tech sector
The Times of Israel projected in 2017 that the country’s total cybersecurity exports were expected to reach $11 billion in 2021.
Additionally, according to the Israeli government, 40 percent of all private cyber investments worldwide have gone into Israel, and 33 percent of cyber unicorn businesses are based there.
According to Tel Aviv, Israel’s “Startup Nation” reputation, which is highly dependent on its multi-billion dollar tech sector, with cybersecurity at its center, has suffered a significant hit as a result of the revelation that their electronic surveillance and warfare technologies are ineffectual and open to guerilla attacks.
In 2018, only a few years prior, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had bragged:
“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 neverending quest of security.”
Israeli society is largely permeated by the struggle for cybersecurity dominance. Universities develop cutting-edge technologies and train the next generation of cyber spies and security personnel who will be hired after graduation by the plethora of companies domestically and abroad that were founded by former employees of Tel Aviv’s notorious cyber intelligence agencies, such as Unit 8200, which effectively serve as arm’s-length divisions of the Israeli state.
In order to sell its weapons to foreign customers, Israel uses graphic videos showing its “surgical strikes” on Palestinian citizens and infrastructure, while its reputation has grown from actual demonstrations of intrusive monitoring technologies like the infamous Pegasus. Pegasus infects target cell phones, making it possible to gather a sizable amount of private user data in real-time.
It has become unsettlingly commonplace in recent years to hear about foreign governments and security services being linked to controversies because they secretly used Pegasus. The NSO Group, which was established by a former Mossad agent, created this intrusive program.
Eli Marom, a former commander of the Israeli navy, said in a national broadcast that Israel as a whole is asking how Israeli intelligence failed amid the Hamas attack.
According to a 2021 Carnegie Endowment investigation, 56 different states purchased this technology from Israeli rivals like Candiru, Cellebrite, and Cytrox, along with other spyware and “digital forensics” breakthroughs.
Making a killing
As Jeff Halper, the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, documented in his 2015 book War Against The People, Tel Aviv’s promotion of goods like Pegasus to foreign clients generates a tremendous amount of diplomatic goodwill, which is very effective in stifling criticism of Zionist barbarism toward Palestinians.
After all, the ruthless efficacy of that barbarism has perversely turned into a unique selling feature for Israeli killing machines, surveillance “solutions,” and combat strategies all around the world.
Just days before the start of Operation al-Aqsa Flood, Israeli media reported on a “record-breaking spike” in the number of nations purchasing Israeli cyberwarfare and intelligence systems, from 67 to 83 over 2022, and the issuance of 126 marketing licenses for these products.
This came after a “dramatic decline” in 2021 that was sparked by revelations about the widespread use of Pegasus by authoritarian regimes and Washington’s blacklisting of NSO and Candiru.
It appears likely that Israel’s cybersecurity industry would experience a sharp loss in fortunes as a result of the recent events. By design, Gaza is an outdoor confinement camp, and in theory, nothing or no one is allowed in or leave without Tel Aviv’s consent. But this time, the purported internal surveillance system utterly failed.
Resistance in a digital age
The irony is that one of the most fascinating theories put forth so far is that Palestinians used Huawei smartphones for their online chats. The US and its allies have imposed restrictions on the much-criticized Chinese firm, reportedly because of its ties to the Communist Party.
However, it might be because they refused to add backdoors to their systems when asked to do so by Western intelligence agencies.
For instance, it has been claimed that the Huawei Mate 60 Pro’s satellite communication feature “allows the phone to make calls and transmit data without a network connection, thus avoiding the surveillance of Pegasus spyware.”
The model also makes use of the independent Harmony operating system and “adopts the latest security measures to effectively defend against Pegasus spyware attacks,” which can successfully thwart Pegasus spyware monitoring.
This refusal is now a potent, distinctive selling point for liberation fighters everywhere, not just in the Occupied Territories.
In addition to being a humiliating security blunder for Israel, the Al-Aqsa Flood has called into doubt the effectiveness of that country’s heralded security technology. The legendary 7 October uprising may have far-reaching repercussions, harming the occupation’s prestige not only in the military realm but also in the commercial and economic ones.