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ICT Talking Heads Session 1: Former Heads of the Mossad and Shabbak

First up, was Session 1: Former Heads of the Mossad and Shabbak. Our speakers were: Mr. Shabtai Shavit, Former Head of Mossad (1989 – 1995) and present Chairperson of the Board of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and Chairperson of Athena GS3; Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ami Ayalon, Former Head of ISA (1996 – 2000), and present Chairperson of the Akim Organization; Mr. Carmi Gillon, Former Head of the ISA (1995 – 1996), and current VP for External Affairs, Hebrew University; Mr. Yaakov Peri, Former Head of ISA (1988 – 1995), current Chairperson, Bank Mizrachi Tefachot; Maj. Gen. (Res.) Danny Yatom, Former Head of the Mossad (1996 – 1998); and M.K. Avi Dichter, Former Head of the ISA (2000 – 2005), present Member of Knesset, with session moderator Maj. Gen. (Res.) Daniel Rothchild, Former Co-Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and current Director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Mr. Shabtai Shavit – “As an intelligence officer you only deal with your enemies and not with your own forces. Today, I will take the opportunity to say a few words about our forces. This is all in my opinion, and I am only representing myself.” Regarding Israel in 2010, he noted that, on the one hand, every year, Israel wins at least 1 Nobel Prize; has a thriving economy despite the world’s depressed and stagnating economy; is one of the world’s leaders in High-Tech; is ranked 22 out of 100 nations with respect to quality of life; and is one of the leading nations with regards to literature, theatre, and the arts. On the other hand, Israel has terrible gaps between the rich and poor; too much crime and drug use; a media that is controlled by monetary interests; governments which allowed for groups to prosper that do not recognize the country’s laws; a religious sector that it ever growing in number and power; and corruption. Shavit noted Ben Gurion’s theory of an Israeli strategic paradigm which would require a strategic alliance with a Great Power, in addition to regional alliances. In the past, the United States has been Israel’s strongest ally. Yet, in Shavit’s opinion, Obama feels no solidarity towards Israel. The dream of Barak Obama, he says, is to be the President who brings peace between the United States and the Muslim world. “In this sense, we often hear the phrase ‘Israel is a pebble in the president’s shoe.’” While the solidarity between Israel and the United States is based on Judeo-Christian values, current circumstances and the view of the current administration may result in a change in the way Israel is viewed; from an asset to a detriment. In the region, Israel, in the past, used to help all sorts of small ethnic groups, yet none of this good will remains today. “Israel, today, is seen not just as an occupier, but as illegitimate.” This view is coupled with new waves of anti-Semitism. “Even in the United States, the new generation of Jews is growing away from Israel.”
Last, Shavit touched briefly on a multitude of points. Israel must make changes which are good, but quiet; Israel needs to act to establish two states; legitimacy must be made through smart policy; Israel must bring back laws to the military; the Iranian threat must be contended with; sectarian preferences must be diminished; alternative energy must be cultivated; Palestinians in Judea and Samaria should be dealt with by civilian forces like the border patrol (Magav); military officers shouldn’t serve on civilian commissions; clear codes should be established as to the rights of military officers of given ranks to speak to the media freely or act in a manners unbecoming; the IDF must return to its core values; the IDF Secretary should be a Major General, not a General; and the position of Head of Mossad should not go to whichever General didn’t win Chief of Staff (“think about the message that sends to those who serve in Mossad. The next Head of Mossad must come from within, particularly in light of the threats of Iran and the global jihad” today).

Mr. Carmi Gillon – Gillon discussed education and the need to invest more in education, as higher learning is a strategic asset of Israel. He, also, mentioned the decreasing level of national solidarity, which is relatively new, given that in the past, there was great solidarity surrounding the Israeli wars of “no choice,” (i.e. Six Day and Yom Kippur). But since then, both those of formal (i.e. Lebanon) and informal (i.e. on terror) nature, have been surrounded by argument and debate. The social focus is now on the “me”/personal level. Moreover, Gillon argues that there are currently no leaders who are leading us into the future. The main issue for Israel today is the educational system. Saying that due to fund raising, Israel has both the money and the skills, Israel is lacking only in will. A related issue is that many of our bright minds go abroad for PhDs, or to work, and stay there. Israel, he argued, has trouble drawing them back to Israel. It is, therefore, intrinsic that Israel be able to offer them similar pay and top notch labs as they would get at foreign institutions, like at Stanford. This year, Hebrew University, and its related organizations like the Weizmann Institute, received half a million Euro from European donors. It is important to note that the IDF, Mossad, and ISA have, all, been involved in education for years, and that education is part of our national security.

Maj. Gen. Ami Ayalon – According to Ayalon, Israel’s democracy is her greatest asset. As such, the bagatz (or High Court of Justice) has, for years, been trying to decide what rights exist in fighting terrorism, and what rights terrorists have. Interesting is an evolution in their rulings from September 1999 to 2006, where they reversed their decisions regarding the right use targeted assasinations. Yet, when one considers it, the court’s ruling, in a way, is like “Monday-morning quarterbacking.” [My interpretation; not his original words.] In February/March 1996, the first person died from terrorism, after a few years on respite, changing the societies’ view of terrorism and security. According to Ayalon, Hamas’ policy of terrorism is based on a “minefield,” which is the Palestinian population after they give up on political solution. When political negotiations are going well, and the Palestinian people support it, and the P.A. can move against Hamas without a problem. This was the situation between 1996 and 2000. Today, Israel is fighting against Hamas, yet diplomacy isn’t working. So in the fight against terrorism, Ayalon notes, it is essential to understand the type of the new war, which is a limited, low-intensity, but long-term, asymmetric, not just in organization, but in strategy (deterrence v. survival or whatever) war. Ayalon states that it is the job of academics to come up with better more democratic solutions for this new war. He recalls that the change in strategic thinking from the unconditional surrender of the 1950s to today’s concepts, and the change in security concepts from decisive victory to deterrence, occurred in academics, not in the Pentagon. We all must understand we’re fighting a different war. There is no alternative to the problems in international law, between different disciplines of ethics, conducts, and techniques. The world, he claims, looks to us for techniques and technology, and we need to figure out what’s next.

Mr. Yaakov Peri – Peri spoke about the threat of cyber-terrorism. “A part of our job,” he said, “is to look to the future based upon the present.” Now in the 21st century and on, a huge threat and a change in terrorism awaits on the horizon. This is the threat of cyber-terrorism. There is, in this, a great threat to cutting off basic needs, like power and water, to a given population without the use of violence. Thankfully, such an event has yet to occur, primarily, according to Peri, due to strengths of the various security apparati. It is not a question, in Peri’s mind, as to whether such an attack can occur, but rather, when. Cyber-terrorism, by definition, has to be against people or property, or, at least, cause problems or damage. One of the main differences between physical and cyber- terrorism is the way in which it is done. Peri noted that physical terrorism requires weapons, people to carry it out, and requires quantities of time, people, and money. Cyber-terrorism, on the other hand, doesn’t require leaving the house; it only requires computer skills, and a good computer and access. So far, we’ve seen hackers. Peri recalled examples which have already occurred, such as Palestinian organizations which have hacked the websites of the Mossad, ISA, and the Knesset. Israel, in turn, has hacked the website of Hamas and Hezbollah. In Peri’s mind, the hacking demonstrates that terrorist organizations have both the ability and the motivation to continue on this path. Today’s hackers, he notes, lack the motivation to cause serious problems. Yet, organizations like Al-Qaeda are already opening courses on the matter, teaching their people to commit attacks of cyber-terrorism. Today, all nations’ critical utilities are attached to computers and the internet, and are, therefore, at risk. Therefore, according to Peri, it is imperative that all states work together to prevent attacks, given that the next generation of terrorists, who are growing up in a digital world, will be attacking these utilities, making cyber-terrorism a serious threat, perhaps more serious than physical terror.

Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom – Yesterday, only 9 years ago, on 9/11, the world woke up to a disaster. It was an act of terrorism against democracy. Yatom, remembers that prior to the attacks he met with the CIA head, and when they discussed the Iranian threat and jihadist terrorism, he, just like everyone else who tried to speak to Americans about these issues pre-9/11, found that everyone thought they were blowing everything out of proportion and that Israel was manipulating the intelligence to make Iran seem like a threat when it wasn’t, and that terrorism was a Middle Eastern problem that did not and would not affect the US. All it took was one huge disaster for the world, for the US to radically change their view on terrorism and to act against it, in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding Iran, according to Yatom, there is still a gap between the American and Israeli perceptions, and the European perceptions, yet this gap has decreased. He noted that terrorism has no borders, and that terrorism can and does hit everywhere, all over the world. He expressed hope that it doesn’t get to the point that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, as, then, the world will have to play catch up, and deal with the fall-out after the fact. “In terrorism it’s a war of attrition, not dissimilar to those we fought along our border here in our younger days.” The response to this the strength of the spirit; Israeli forces, the IDF, ISA, and Mossad, must be kept ready and on alert for a long time. Israel, he noted, is good at “blitz” wars, such as the Six Day War, and even Yom Kippur, but is not good at long wars of attrition, and, therefore must attempt to conclude all wars with speed so as not to fall into another war of attrition. But terrorism is, as Yatom put it, by definition, a war of attrition. Yatom said that it is key to decrease their [the terrorists’] “religious, social, ideological,” and other motivations “to kill us all.” This, he said, is not an easy thing to do. Yet, it msut be done, as if not, tomorrow will be worse than today. It is essential that those who are fighting terrorism examine their actions, Israel “in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, the Russians in Chechnya, the Americans and NATO in Afghanistan,” and the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, which involve big forces, which, sometimes, hit uninvolved civilians. “Each time an American plane hits innocents, or one of our forces hurts innocents, it only results in more volunteers who are willing to become terrorists, and hurt our forces or the forces of the West.” Yet, despite this, Yatom argued that terrorism is not the main challenge to Israel. The main threat to Israel is the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear state with a nuclear weapon. There are those who argue, he noted, that even if Iran should have a bomb, Iran, as a smart and logical actor, wouldn’t use it. “But I don’t want to be in the situation that I am sitting here in Israel and am worried about whether they will… like a lab rat waiting to see what the examiner will do. I don’t want to be under the experiment of the Iranians.” Therefore, “we cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.” Yatom noted that Iran is on the fourth rounds of sanctions, and while it does hurt the Iranians, it hasn’t stopped them from continuing in their quest for nuclear capabilities, and continuing with their aid (monetary, political, strategic, etc.) to terrorism (including to Hezbollah and other organizations). In his opinion, it is likely that Iran will only stop if they are attacked. Regarding the nuclear facilities, he said that while it is true that some are secret and still unknown, and that some are buried deeply, it is, also, true that if the West would combine the strengths of their Air Forces, under the Americans, it would set the Iranians years off course. The question, he mentioned, exists, as to what would happen if the world and the US won’t take action? To this, he replied, “Israel will maintain its right to self-defense.” “Can Israel pay the price of attacking on its own? In my opinion, the price we will have to pay if Iran gets the bomb will be far worse and heavier than the price, political and military, that we will have to pay if we attack on our own. But I don’t want to talk about an Israeli attack. “

MK Avi Dichter –Dichter argued that terrorism is the main cause of the 21st century. 9/11, was, certainly, the worst attack ever. Yet, “even today 12/9 many people sitting here remember the Sunday before the 1993 signing of the agreement between us [Israel] and the Palestinians, the string of attacks in Israel and the territories, and September 1993, the first suicide attack by Palestinians (thank God he went to heaven by himself).” This act, he said, changed the view that Palestinians wouldn’t use suicide bombings. In the 17 years which have gone by since then, that they have have greatly surpassed those who used them prior. “Terrorism,” he argued, “changed their strategy and so we must change ours, as well.” According to Dichet, strategy in fighting terrorism must make three assumptions. First, he said, “we must change the reality that has come to be, over the last 10 years, which changed Israel from the home front (oref) to the frontline (chazit).” Second, he noted that deterrence is far more effective against a state than against an organization. Third, he argued that the “barrel of terrorism has a bottom…. When there is a critical mass of terrorists coming out of this barrel, you need to decrease it.” “Therefore, I think, when we look at ourselves, particularly between 2000 and 2001 or so… in three years we lost 900 citizens to terrorism, the majority of them civilians. This is beyond the scale, even when you look at proportions compared to citizens of other countries, it’s terrible. So then we changed our strategy, after a year and a half, where we lost 400 citizens, we went out to Operation Defensive Shield, and built a barrier. The barrier cost 10 billion shekels. There were those who said that we just threw away the money, but, thanks to this barrier, there has been a huge decrease in terrorism, [as it has] impaired their ability to carry out attacks.” Moreover, he added, the barrier “creates a real border between Israel and the future Palestinian state, [as] the ‘Green Line’ was ,really, only on paper…. ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’” Dichter argued that today, “if it wasn’t for the barrier, the P.A. would not be in control in the streets of Judea and Samaria.” Referring to May 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Hezbollah continued a wave of terrorism into Israel, but was, ultimately, unsuccessful. According to Dichter, they tried to get volunteers, with foreign citizenships, but when that failed, they moved onto a different strategy. That new strategy was to change the Israeli home front into the front line. “That’s what the Palestinians were doing prior to Defensive Shield and the building of the barrier. That’s still what Hamas is trying to do in Gaza with the launching of rockets from Gaza to Israel. “To our dismay, the P.A. has still done nothing. Therefore, we can see very clearly, in the last 35 years, all of the wars and operations, mostly in Gaza, all were in response to terrorism and terrorists. More than half of our country’s history has been spent responding to terrorism.” Israel build deterrence, after the War of Independence, against countries like Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, yet has found that such deterrence is far less effective against terrorist organizations. Dichter Reitterated his earlier point that when a given strategy does not work, it needs to be changed. “Terrorists cannot be allowed to determine for us the level or bredth of our response.” To the three elements of Israeli security policy, deterrence, alert, and decisive victory, a forth mush be added: active defense. Dichter argued that there needs to be active air defense, just as there is the security barrier on ground. Discussing the aspect of costs, he brings up the American example. The Americans, prior to 9/11, determined that it was too costly to secure each flight,. Israel, on the other hand, since 1988, secured its flights, and since then, no one has succeeded in taking an Israel plane hostage. “If we could turn back, and think what would have happened if the Americans had put people on their planes, it could have prevented 9/11. How do you translate 2,700 dead to money. What is the monetary value of the twin towers, the four plans, and all of those people. As a result, they entered Afghanistan, and have been there for nine years, which has cost them greatly. It has gone beyond three trillion dollars in Afghanistan. Had they just put people on planes they would have still saved a lot of money. The US was dragged into Afghanistan by terrorism, just as we [Israel] were dragged into the fight in Lebanon, and the Judea and Samaria, and Gaza, due to terrorism… over the last five years, there has been a more massive scale of attacks of rockets…. imagine how it would have been had we had an aerial wall….” The rockets’ effects would have been null, and so Israel needs to build an aerial defense. “Even the terrorist heads are able to see when terrorism doesn’t work.” Concluding, Dichter stated that Israel needs a strategy of peace, with the Palestinians and with Syria; one which must be braver.

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