In­side in­tel­li­gence

A ra­zor-fo­cused cen­ter makes waves – from the Gaza bor­der cri­sis, to the Arab Bank ter­ror­ism law­suit to Shin Bet and Mos­sad tour guides

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By YONAH JEREMY BOB

How many re­search cen­ters are filled with for­mer top of­fi­cials from Is­rael’s three elite in­tel­li­gence agen­cies: IDF In­tel­li­gence, the Mos­sad and the Shin Bet (Is­rael Se­cu­rity Agency)? How many cen­ters for anal­y­sis have a di­rect line to cur­rent of­fi­cials within those same agen­cies?

While there are a few cen­ters with top for­mer Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, most are fo­cused on a range of is­sues, whereas the Is­raeli In­tel­li­gence and Her­itage Com­mem­o­ra­tion Cen­ter (IICC) is ra­zor-fo­cused on in­tel­li­gence and is the home of by far the largest con­tin­gent of for­mer of­fi­cials.

In a re­cent rare in­sider visit to the cen­ter and meet­ings with a range of the cen­ter’s top of­fi­cials, the Mag­a­zine learned just how in­flu­en­tial the cen­ter is, get­ting rou­tine vis­its from se­nior for­eign diplo­mats and law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing re­cently dur­ing the Gaza bor­der cri­sis.

The cen­ter has at least three ma­jor branches. The old­est and orig­i­nal branch runs a cut­ting-edge in­tel­li­gence mu­seum and spe­cial tours. It cur­rently fea­tures a brand-new fire-kite ter­ror­ism ex­hibit, in­clud­ing a fire kite taken from the re­cent Gaza bor­der cri­sis. There are also re­mem­brance events and a memo­rial for fallen agents and spies.

A sec­ond branch, ac­cord­ing to IICC CEO IDF in­tel­li­gence Brig.-Gen. David Tzur, is fo­cused on “get­ting to the de­ci­sion-mak­ers” in the US, the EU and other coun­tries with im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to in­flu­ence their views and poli­cies re­gard­ing Is­rael.

That branch is the Meir Amit In­tel­li­gence and Ter­ror­ism In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter headed by re­tired IDF in­tel­li­gence Col. Reu­ven Ehrlich.

Ehrlich ex­plained to the Mag­a­zine that what is “unique is that we are built on the ba­sis of a very tal­ented and skilled group of peo­ple with rich ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.”

“Many of them also have learned ad­di­tional dis­ci­plines and we add aca­demic ex­perts to fully cover the Mid­dle East, Is­lam and phi­los­o­phy,” said Ehrlich. A large num­ber also are coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts.

He ex­plained, “Our mix is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent from what would be ex­pected in academia,” since “we also have a strong and deep con­nec­tion to all of the arms of the in­tel­li­gence and de­fense es­tab­lish­ment.”

How­ever, both Tzur and Ehrlich strongly em­pha­sized that the cen­ter is not an Is­raeli pub­lic re­la­tions shop. They said they do not work on any bul­let points from the govern­ment and they do go with what is most ac­cu­rate – wher­ever the facts take them.

At the same time, Ehrlich said, “we know these re­sults of­ten hap­pen to turn out to be very good ma­te­rial for pub­lic re­la­tions for Is­rael, but our ap­proach is to stick to the facts.”

WHAT IS the Meir Amit Cen­ter’s im­pact? There are dif­fer­ent ways to mea­sure this.

Ehrlich told the Mag­a­zine that there are 180 na­tions read­ing in­for­ma­tion from its web­site with around 280,000 vis­i­tors a month, and that is con­tin­u­ally go­ing up, more re­cently to 327,000. The read­er­ship is bro­ken down to about 30% from the US, 30% from the EU, 15% from Is­rael and then di­vided among a range of other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Arab na­tions. Dur­ing pe­ri­ods of es­ca­lated con­flict, the site reached as high as 700,000 vis­i­tors.

The cen­ter has pro­duced ma­te­rial from clever anal­y­sis of open-source ma­te­rial in mul­ti­ple lan­guages as well as from leaked ma­te­rial di­rectly from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. Some of this in­for­ma­tion has had spe­cific im­pact on ma­jor events.

On April 11, The Jerusalem Post was the first to break a story from the Meir Amit cen­ter that around 80% of Pales­tini­ans who had been killed by the IDF to date dur­ing the Gaza bor­der cri­sis were associated with Ha­mas.

While this did not com­pletely change the nar­ra­tive of how the world is view­ing the on­go­ing cri­sis from a pub­lic re­la­tions per­spec­tive, it did have some im­pact. It will also very likely have long-term le­gal im­pli­ca­tions in how the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court and other for­eign courts view the sit­u­a­tion.

Also, more than a month after the re­port came out, a se­nior Ha­mas of­fi­cial ad­mit­ted in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view that around 80% of the Pales­tini­ans killed by the IDF on the most ex­plo­sive day of the cri­sis, May 14, were associated with Ha­mas. This ef­fec­tively con­firmed what the cen­ter had re­vealed in the re­port by the Post on April 11.

This was not the first time that the Meir Amit cen­ter was ahead of the game on iden­ti­fy­ing which ca­su­al­ties were civil­ians and which fight­ers from Ha­mas or other ter­ror­ist groups.

Dur­ing the 2014 Gaza War, the cen­ter re­viewed the cases of around 1,500 of the around 2,100 Pales­tini­ans who were killed.

Its in-depth study, which shared sig­nif­i­cant back-up for its con­clu­sions, iden­ti­fied around 50% of those on the list as fight­ers, whereas Ha­mas and the UN had, with­out pre­sent­ing much back-up, orig­i­nally claimed around 70% to 80% were civil­ians.

Ehrlich said that the main rea­son they did not check

all of the cases was that once Ha­mas re­al­ized that the cen­ter was us­ing in­for­ma­tion it handed out to check back­grounds of the ca­su­al­ties, it or­dered its Health Min­istry to cease pub­li­ciz­ing de­tails.

He ex­plained that the cen­ter got into the busi­ness of check­ing the back­ground of Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties when it no­ticed a clear me­dia ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal slant to the is­sue that be­trayed a readi­ness to ac­cept what Gaza and the UN fed them with­out check­ing.

Pressed why Ha­mas had started to take credit again for the back­ground of Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties, first in so­cial me­dia picked up by the cen­ter and later in the May me­dia in­ter­view, re­tired IDF in­tel­li­gence Brig.-Gen. Yossi Ku­per­wasser said, “the fam­i­lies want to get the honor of the mar­tyr­dom. Also, to get com­pen­sa­tion from Ha­mas, in­for­ma­tion is needed about the ca­su­al­ties’ back­grounds.”

In the past, the cen­ter helped dis­trib­ute tons of rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing IDF aerial pho­tos, which clar­i­fied the con­text of con­tro­ver­sial in­ci­dents where Pales­tini­ans were hurt or killed dur­ing the 2009 Gaza War. Tzur and Ehrlich said that the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in­ves­ti­ga­tor Richard Gold­stone and other UN of­fi­cials found the in­for­ma­tion they pro­vided con­vinc­ing.

They also said that they cor­rectly pre­dicted the mess that oc­curred with the 2010 Mavi Mar­mara flotilla with 10 ship pas­sen­ger-fight­ers killed by the IDF and around 10 IDF sol­diers in­jured.

ALL OF this started with IICC, and sim­ply the idea of hav­ing some cen­tral set place for memo­ri­als for the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. The first memo­rial was set up in 1980 and the or­ga­ni­za­tion was fo­cused solely on fam­i­lies who had lost loved ones from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, said Tzur.

In 1983, the head of IDF in­tel­li­gence broad­ened it to in­clude all in­tel­li­gence agents who had served a cer­tain num­ber of years (at one point the min­i­mum was 15 years – now it is down to 10 years) with famed Mos­sad and IDF in­tel­li­gence chief Meir Amit (for whom the branch that sends out reg­u­lar re­ports is named) run­ning the in­sti­tu­tion.

Next, Tzur said that the memo­rial and her­itage role was ex­panded to in­clude year-round events. A fo­cus be­came pro­vid­ing fund­ing and trans­porta­tion to bring youth from around the coun­try, es­pe­cially from the less well-off pe­riph­ery, to the memo­rial, which evolved into a full-fledged mu­seum.

The IICC makes an ex­tra ef­fort to bring in stu­dents from places such as Di­mona, Ne­tivot, Kiryat Sh­mona and Lod. It hosts stu­dents from all back­grounds.

The mu­seum has now grown to in­clude 746 ex­hibits, in­clud­ing the new fire-ter­ror kites ex­hibit, and it has a spe­cial memo­rial for all agents lost in the field. That memo­rial pe­ri­od­i­cally adds Mos­sad agents whose deaths and names were long known in­ter­nally, but whose iden­ti­ties as Mos­sad agents could not be re­vealed un­til a much later date for na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons. Mean­while, the IICC is up to 1,400 mem­bers for­merly con­nected with the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

Tzur said that the mu­seum tour gives stu­dents “an in­tel­li­gence day ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“They come in first and watch a video that ex­plains what the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is. They see the memo­ri­als. They hear some of the ma­jor in­tel­li­gence leg­ends,” said Tzur.

One unique as­pect of the mu­seum tours, he said, is that tours are of­ten led by vol­un­teer ex-Mos­sad, Shin

Bet and other in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials. These are no nor­mal tour guides. Be­sides the ex-in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, the in­sti­tu­tion only has six full-time em­ploy­ees.

Some of the ex­hibits are highly un­usual. Dur­ing the tour, one hears clan­des­tinely recorded con­ver­sa­tions from 1967 be­tween then Egyp­tian pres­i­dent Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser and then Jor­da­nian King Hus­sein mis­lead­ingly ac­cus­ing the US of a va­ri­ety of ac­tions as part of a plan of ma­nip­u­la­tion.

There is also a record­ing of Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence lis­ten­ing in on Rus­sian de­fense fig­ures, part of Unit 8200’s eaves­drop­ping on Rus­sian-Egyp­tian-Syr­ian com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Tzur said that the tours ex­plore “how the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity stops ter­ror­ist at­tacks.” It puts par­tic­i­pants into a sim­u­la­tion and “ex­plains cer­tain Shin Bet tac­tics.”

HOW DID it ex­pand into adding the Meir Amit Cen­ter branch, which reg­u­larly dis­trib­utes up­dates and re­ports?

In 2002, around the time of the IDF’s Op­er­a­tion De­fen­sive Shield in the West Bank, the IDF cap­tured a trea­sure trove of hun­dreds of Pales­tinian ter­ror­ism-re­lated doc­u­ments and wanted to get them out for the world to see.

Ehrlich and a group of other in­tel­li­gence-re­serve of­fi­cers were asked to an­a­lyze and vet the doc­u­ments. The hope was to bet­ter un­der­stand what had been cap­tured and how it could be pre­sented glob­ally, es­pe­cially to the US govern­ment. Crit­i­cally, some of the doc­u­ments di­rectly in­crim­i­nated Yasser Arafat in pro­mot­ing ter­ror­ism.

“We came to a giant hangar bay. Noth­ing was set up for us and we just started go­ing through boxes and boxes of doc­u­ments. Even­tu­ally tremen­dous ad­van­tages came out of this,” in con­vinc­ing the US and oth­ers about the PA and Arafat’s ter­ror­ism ties, he said.

The team Ehrlich gath­ered for this was the start of his Meir Amit Cen­ter team.

Ehrlich also dis­cussed the im­pact his team had on the land­mark US anti-ter­ror­ism-fi­nanc­ing Arab Bank case, which re­port­edly led to the bank pay­ing out ap­prox­i­mately $1 bil­lion to ter­ror­ist vic­tims.

He said that a large vol­ume of the ev­i­dence that the Jewish ter­ror-vic­tim plain­tiffs used in the case came from doc­u­ments pro­vided by his team. For ex­am­ple, in July 2004, the cen­ter pub­lished data from doc­u­ments that the IDF had cap­tured dur­ing an ear­lier raid in the West Bank.

The cen­ter’s re­port said that some ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tives were also in­volved in Ha­mas’s civil­ian ac­tiv­i­ties. It said that Ja­mal Tawil, who founded the Al-Is­lah Char­i­ta­ble So­ci­ety As­so­ci­a­tion in Ra­mal­lah, which openly iden­ti­fied with Ha­mas and did busi­ness with Arab Bank, was in­volved in the sui­cide bomb­ing at­tack at the Ben-Ye­huda mall in Jerusalem in De­cem­ber 2001 in which 11 Is­raelis were killed and 170 wounded. The re­port noted that un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion, Tawil ad­mit­ted to open­ing a branch of Al-Is­lah in Ra­mal­lah to pro­vide le­gal cover for Ha­mas ac­tiv­i­ties.

Cur­rently, the Meir Amit Cen­ter sends out reg­u­lar up­dates on Pales­tinian ter­ror­ism, Iran and global ter­ror­ism trends – es­pe­cially those with an im­pact on the Mid­dle East. It also oc­ca­sion­ally sends out spe­cial re­ports, such as an ex­clu­sive that the Post re­ported cov­er­ing all ISIS chap­ters glob­ally.

Us­ing aca­demic-level stan­dards of not writ­ing any­thing that can­not be con­firmed, usu­ally by mul­ti­ple cred­i­ble sources, Ehrlich said that the team still works more like an in­tel­li­gence staff and em­ploys a wide use of all kinds of me­dia. This in­cludes ex­ten­sive re­view of pic­tures and videos from Pales­tinian, Ira­nian and other sources.

The cen­ter’s re­ports are trans­lated into English, French, Span­ish, Ger­man, Rus­sian and Ara­bic.

Though the Meir Amit Cen­ter started as al­most an out­growth of IDF in­tel­li­gence need­ing more man­power and dip­ping into its re­tired of­fi­cials for help, it has moved away from that model.

Now, the cen­ter is more sep­a­rate from the cur­rent in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, though Ehrlich ac­knowl­edged that with­out the con­nec­tion of the IICC to the Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, it would not have all of the unique help and re­sources it can bring to the ta­ble.

“We are part of the same DNA and body along with the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” said Tzur.

IICC of­fi­cials con­sis­tently em­pha­size the dual mes­sage that they have in­cred­i­ble and rare ac­cess to top cur­rent in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, but also are strongly in­de­pen­dent re­gard­ing the ma­te­rial they pro­duce.

THE THIRD branch of IICC is run by Ku­per­wasser (Ku­per­wasser is also part of Ehrlich’s core team, along with re­tired for­mer IDF In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Dalia Koren) and em­pha­sizes jour­nal-level ex­plo­ration of in­tel­li­gence is­sues.

Un­like any other com­pet­ing cen­ter, the jour­nals pro­duced by IICC reg­u­larly have cur­rent in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials from the Shin Bet and IDF in­tel­li­gence contributi­ng – though that usu­ally means that their names are ab­bre­vi­ated, us­ing a sin­gle let­ter from their name on the au­thor line.

The ex­cep­tion is the head of IDF in­tel­li­gence, who of­ten con­trib­utes an ar­ti­cle by name.

That means their jour­nals are a rare op­por­tu­nity to hear di­rectly from cur­rently serv­ing in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials about a broad range of top­ics that Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence is con­fronting.

Ku­per­wasser added that the jour­nals “pro­vide a chance for di­a­logue about is­sues of cur­rent in­ter­est to in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials. Many are aching to write. We give them a plat­form to pro­voke dis­cus­sion.”

He said that he presents the jour­nals to cur­rent in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and that, “from my ex­pe­ri­ence, they pick a cer­tain is­sue and say ‘oh, this is in­ter­est­ing’ and af­ter­ward it leads to an in­ter­nal de­bate where they say ‘maybe we should take this idea in this di­rec­tion.’ This is be­cause they are al­ways look­ing for ways to im­prove.”

Re­cent is­sues have ad­dressed the im­pact on in­tel­li­gence of big data; the in­creased need for co­or­di­na­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent agen­cies; cop­ing with rapid change; and the role of in­tel­li­gence in the pub­lic-re­la­tions arena of bat­tling for hearts and minds.

Each is­sue tends to have about an 80% fo­cus on the main theme, while also ad­dress­ing side is­sues, said Ku­per­wasser.

Asked how he thinks Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence is do­ing with in­ter-agency co­or­di­na­tion com­pared to other coun­tries, Ku­per­wasser gave Is­rael a very high grade.

He said it was ex­tremely com­plex for Europe to co­or­di­nate be­tween so many dis­parate coun­tries and agen­das. Even the US was ham­pered by try­ing to co­or­di­nate be­tween 17 dif­fer­ent in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, he said.

With only three main in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, he said Is­rael had a ma­jor ad­van­tage – par­tic­u­larly since many of­fi­cials in the Shin Bet and the Mos­sad orig­i­nally served in IDF in­tel­li­gence and feel more of a con­nec­tion among each other from that com­mon his­tory. This is all de­spite the fact that the US was the first to start think­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally about in­ter-agency in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion, he said.

Ku­per­wasser said they even have in­tel­li­gence agents in­volved in op­er­a­tions writ­ing ar­ti­cles from them, with the big data is­sue hav­ing had more op­er­a­tions per­son­nel as au­thors.

IICC chair­man Brig-Gen. Dr. Zvi Sh­tauber summed up some of the essence of the in­sti­tu­tion say­ing, “In the age of fake news, it is of dra­matic im­por­tance to get in­tel­li­gence that is un­bi­ased and ob­jec­tive. We do.”

“We do not wake up in the morn­ing to do Is­raeli has­bara [pub­lic diplo­macy]. Our in­tel­li­gence her­itage cen­ter per­forms re­search and tours. It brings kids from the pe­riph­ery to the mu­seum and we have had ma­jor suc­cesses. We are a highly trust­wor­thy source,” said Sh­tauber.

He added, “We have an in­tel­li­gence cen­ter board of pro­fes­sors and in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als who raise lots of is­sues about things that no one is cov­er­ing. We are liv­ing peo­ple who are veter­ans of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, im­por­tant spies, Shin Bet of­fi­cials and oth­ers who are al­most all vol­un­teers.”

De­spite a tiny paid staff, it is the IICC’s unique vol­un­teer per­son­nel that en­ables it to punch way above its weight class and have both sub­stan­tial na­tional and global im­pact.

(Pho­tos: Marc Is­rael Sellem)

ELITE IN­TEL­LI­GENCE: The cen­ter’s staff in­cludes (left to right) – Top row: Col. Reu­ven Ehrlich; IICC CEO Brig.-Gen. David Tzur; and Brig.-Gen. Yossi Ku­per­wasser, all re­tired from IDF In­tel­li­gence. Bot­tom row: Dalia Koren, Sarit De Cas­tro and Brig.-Gen. Amos Gil­boa, all for­merly of IDF In­tel­li­gence; and Nina Fatael, an ex-Mos­sad agent.

TRAC­ING THE Jewish state’s bom­bas­tic his­tory. The IICC has pro­duced ma­te­rial for clever anal­y­sis of open-source ma­te­rial in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, as well as from leaked ma­te­rial di­rectly from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

DE CAS­TRO SHOWS off the brand-new fire-kite ter­ror­ism ex­hibit, which in­cludes a fire kite taken from the re­cent Gaza bor­der cri­sis.

MEMORIALIZ­ING IN­TEL­LI­GENCE of­fi­cers who fell in ac­tion.

FUR­THER IN­SIGHT into the con­flict (with down-and­dirty weaponry on dis­play) is pro­vided by aca­demic ex­perts who fully cover the Mid­dle East, Is­lam and phi­los­o­phy for the Meir Amit Cen­ter.

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