Behind the Incident in Nabi Saleh & the Information Revolution in the Israel Police

The Commissioner of the Israel Police is leading an information revolution in the 'blue' force, the Prime Minister decides to unify Israel's national cyber units, and a Palestinian girl attacks an IDF officer in an incident that was blown way out of proportion. Amir Rapaport's weekly column

Photo: AP

The incident involving the Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi, who slapped an IDF officer this week, is an incident of esoteric operational importance that has been blown up to a media mega-event. Once again, it was proven that the camera is one of the most powerful weapons in the territories.

Thousands of the talkback commentators who responded to those hard-to-digest images in the social media hastened to compare the incident at the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah with the Elor Azaria incident. The immediate claim was that sending Azaria to prison led the IDF detachment to avoid responding to the severe provocation.

The truth is, an incident that is more similar to the circumstances of the Azaria shooting incident in Hebron took place last Friday, at the Judea & Samaria Junction – and not this week in Nabi Saleh. In that incident, a terrorist who had attacked and injured a Border Guard trooper was shot to death. The terrorist was killed after he was already laying prone on the road, because of suspicions he was carrying an explosive vest. The troopers fired without hesitation. No one summoned them to an investigation. Apparently, the Azaria affair does not really prevent firing when it is really necessary.

On the other hand, the slapping incident at Nabi Saleh is still under operational investigation, a conclusion of which will be submitted to the IDF Chief of Staff and the Minister of Defense, no less. The brigade commander and the division commander conducted the initial debriefing this week, and their report was presented to the commander of IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa.

In the Azaria affair, the general commanding IDF Central Command had thought initially that the incident should be handled through a standard command procedure, but the Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense hastened to condemn the shooting publicly, thereby triggering a media 'demons' dance'. Some people maintain that the affair clouded the relations between IDF Chief of Staff Eizenkot and Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, and was one of the reasons that Numa has not been included in the new appointment round announced recently, which will lead to the end of his military career very soon.

While the recent incident was being investigated, the Minister of Defense issued a prompt announcement regarding the manner in which the IDF force conducted itself, except that this time it was less unambiguous than Moshe Ya'alon's statement in the matter of Azaria, made during a debate in the Knesset. Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman said the following at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with IDF troopers: "All of us fully back all of the soldiers. You must realize that some situations are complex and whatever happens, we as the supreme political echelon and as the supreme command echelon will back up all of the soldiers. This is the most important lesson of yesterday's incident. More importantly, the person that had run wild during the day, was arrested during the night. Today, her mother will be brought in for questioning as well, and we will settle the legal score with everyone involved."

Policemen instead of Soldiers

Back to proper proportions? Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe (Chicko) Tamir argues that "The real story with regard to the slapping incident is not about the conduct of the force or the girl, but about something much more serious – the fact that the IDF is terribly unsuitable for the missions facing them in the territories."

Tamir was the commander of the Golani Infantry Brigade when it promptly dominated the Palestinian city of Tul-Karem – a move which included hundreds of arrests in the context of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. "The circumstances this time are completely different," says Tamir. "During Operation Defensive Shield, the forces had been assigned a clearly-defined operational mission, while in the past ten years the IDF is committing its best forces to the territories in missions that are strictly police missions.

"It is important to understand that there is a huge difference between a military force, trained to employ maximum force, and the police way of thinking, which essentially endeavors to employ the minimum amount of force required in order to maintain public order. A fighting military force is not supposed to know how to handle a police mission like the one at the village of Nabi Saleh, just as beat policemen are not supposed to fight Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

"The long-overdue solution should involve the reinforcement of the Border Guard units subordinated to the IDF in the rural areas of the territories and along the 'seam line' (as in the case of the area surrounding Jerusalem – where the IDF does not operate at all), but owing to irrelevant reasons, the IDF and the Israel Police did exactly the opposite. They reduced those forces. Under these circumstances, you cannot blame the troopers on the ground – only the echelon that sends them to missions they are neither trained nor qualified to accomplish."

The Information Revolution in the Israel Police

Meanwhile, and totally unrelated, an information revolution is underway within the Israel Police, of which very few people are aware. Commissioner Roni Alsheikh is leading this revolution. Alsheikh was involved in the information revolution that had taken place at his former place of work – the Israel Security Agency. There, following the terrorist attacks of the mid-1990s, the ISA began to assimilate more and more information systems, which assist in preventing terrorism on a daily basis.

Ironically, the parties that help the Police implement its information revolution are the Mossad and Unit 8200 of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, more than the ISA.

This is what a senior police source had to say about the 'blue' information revolution, which is currently on-going: "The ever-intensifying connectivity makes the world flat and changes it dramatically – security-wise and civilian-wise. The engine that drives the process is the economy – everyone wants to expand the boundaries of the economy, the world is becoming privatized and entrepreneurial, governments cut coupons and revise their regulations in order to gain something out of it. The economy makes this thing fly at a mind-boggling speed. In the past it involved the ships, now it involves the optical fibers. No one can stop it. It will only intensify in the future.

"What does it actually do? It enables us to operate from any place to any place, and makes many of the security tools of the past redundant. The authority that currently decides to move troops is nearly irrelevant. You will be able to draw your opponent's blood without moving troops if you operate properly. The interests have changed, the macro security game of the world has become different. We operate mainly in the stand-off mode – regardless of who you are – in offensive operations as well as in defensive operations.

"This transfers most of the threats to the rear area. There is no reason to scuffle along the borders – you have to hit the enemy in his rear area. This places on the shoulders of the Israel Police a substantial security burden compared to the situation in the past. The layouts of the State of Israel are classic. For example, if an emergency situation should break out tomorrow, we will obviously mobilize most of the policemen, as they may prove to be more relevant than the soldiers. Has anyone sorted out the issue of supplying fuel to the Israel Police in an emergency? Has it been adapted to this world to begin with? This is just a small curiosity. But whatever happens in an emergency – it will not be similar to past emergency situations. In the Second Lebanon War, Operation Protective Edge and all of these operations, no party maneuvered opposite us. We maneuvered because we had chosen to maneuver. They played a completely different game opposite us. What did we, at the Police, identify? There are many islands of intelligence. Owing to the excessive compartmentalization, no element is actually using the intelligence of other elements. We also found that the intelligence serves and supports the investigative activities but not the policing activities – we collect intelligence in order to investigate but not in order to make our policing efforts smarter. Consequently, a virtual wall has been built between the Operations Division and the Investigation & Intelligence Division – which is totally unacceptable. If we take an extreme example – I may send a policeman to handle a 100 dispatch call, and that policeman has no idea that an armed criminal is waiting there for him. This could happen because of that wall, and for this reason we have redefined the intelligence sequence."

Do these things already produce any output?

"There are outputs in every corner throughout the Police force, but by now we have only utilized about 20% of the potential. We are making very significant leaps. Eventually, the potential of this thing is huge. We have more resources we intend to invest in it in 2018, and we will have more resources for 2019. Everything we managed to position at the fusion center, we will be able to use.

"The nice thing about it is that the field is already inventing new models and ideas on how to produce intelligence-directed policing. This only shows you that the people understand how valuable it is. It drives the organization in a very impressive way. In my view, in the coming decade, it will only intensify."

Are you referring to data extraction systems? Where does the SigInt-Cyber component come into it?

"The national units had these capabilities in the past. We promptly deployed SigInt-Cyber teams to the various districts – something we did not have until now. We provided the stations with capabilities, as well as with the ability to process data… The revolution is only beginning."

Cyber Decision

Earlier this week, the government sanctioned the unification of the cyber units into the "National Cyber Directorate."

The government approved the Prime Minister's proposal to unify the two national cyber units (the National Cyber Bureau and the National Cybersecurity Authority) into a single unit – the National Cyber Directorate, charged with all of the cybersecurity aspects pertaining to the civilian cyberspace, from the consolidation of policy and the build-up of the technological force, to operational cybersecurity.

According to the announcement of the Prime Minister's Office, the National Cyber Bureau had been established within the Prime Minister's Office in 2012, to lead the strategy, the national policy and the build-up of the technological force in the field of cyber in Israel.

In line with the recommendations of the National Cyber Bureau, the government decided, in February 2015, to establish the National Cybersecurity Authority as the main operative cybersecurity organ in Israel, to operate alongside the National Cyber Bureau, subject to a clearly-defined assignment of responsibilities between the organs.

The decision to operate in a single layout but as two different units was made at the time in view of the need to build up and reinforce the two arms of the layout – policy and force build-up (for which the Bureau is responsible) and the actual employment of the force (for which the Authority is responsible).

The decision to fully unite the two units complements the national effort ordered by the Prime Minister as far back as 2011 – to develop optimal security for the civilian cyberspace.

Now, let's address the things that were not included in the official announcement: the sector boundaries of the new, unified organ are yet to be clearly defined. The Head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, is leading a prompt staff work effort on the subject, which should also determine the position and role of the Israel Police in the new "cyber world." The arrangements regulating the cooperation between the ISA and the Cyber Authority have thus far completely failed to even consider the Israel Police.

Equally important: the Prime Minister has not announced who would head the new cyber organ instead of Dr. Eviatar Matania, who established the national cyber directorate and will conclude two terms, and a total of six (successful) years in office next week.