Israel’s Intelligence Corps surrenders, and the Mossad braces itself for a new challenge

Is Israeli intelligence schizophrenic? And where are the Mossad's inner upheavels leading to? Amir Rapaport tries to make some sense of it all in his weekly column

Israel’s Intelligence Corps surrenders, and the Mossad braces itself for a new challenge

Photo: IDF website

The amount of energy invested by the Israeli Intelligence Directorate, in the attempts to dissolve the process of moving its military bases to the Negev, in the south of the country – could have been put to much better use.

Even after last week’s government decision to allocate 500M NIS for this transition, and laying the cornerstone in a high-profile ceremony that took place this week – the media still kept discussing the “senior Intelligence Directorate members” who oppose this process.

The main concern is “brain drain”, given the exploding high-tech scene in the private sector. And while this is a valid concern – the battle is decided. We are now listening to the opponents’ swan song. Within a few years, the prestigious IDF intelligence bases will all be in the Negev, and this is a good thing.

Some background: the decision to move the bases south was made at the start of the current millennium, while Ariel Sharon was prime minister. Sharon knew how to get his way and put things in motion. This was part of an overall strategy, that included repositioning various bases in the south, such as the Zrifin training bases (formerly in central Israel), Air Force bases, and large logistics units.

The crown jewel of this overall maneuver was centralizing the technological camps of the ICT Department in an enormous, innovative compound adjacent to Beer Sheba’s new high-tech park, right by the Ben Gurion University (this base is already under construction), and also move the most prestigious intelligence bases to the Likit junction area, some 14 km east of the city. This model was copied from the San Francisco Bay Area, where starting in the 1970s, high-tech companies located next to tech army bases and top universities began to flourish, as the last two kept an ongoing rush of brilliant minds to the developing sector.

While building the new military bases is estimated to cost quite a fortune – evacuating the existing ones is expected to gain bring in much more. First and foremost, the thawing of land from the central intelligence camps in the Glilot area and in the city of Givatayim – for the purpose of building – should be Israel’s main bonanza. And it’s not only about the money the country will rake in after selling the land itself, but the thawing of additional thousands of acres in northern Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon and even Herzliya, in areas that are no-build zones today since they are close to the bases.

 

The original date of completing the IDF intelligence units’ move to the south was 2018 – except this wonderful vision ran head-first into the typical Israeli reality of excess bureaucracy and pettiness.

 The move was held back for years, from example, because of a ridiculous argument between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Finance, as to who will bear the costs of the bullet loan necessary from the time construction starts until the money from the thawing of lands is available.  There was no one around who could calculate the immense potential profit that was now lost. Unfortunately, the sectoral approach has taken the lead, as it does in every aspect. 

In hindsight, the Intelligence Directorate demonstrated schizophrenic behavior regarding this decision. As early as 2006, a special administration was created, tasked to centralize the massive plan, and over the years some first steps were made – such as leasing grounds for 8200 Unit in the Beer Sheba high-tech park, and moving the intelligence cyber school int the city.

Yet, in practice, several of the Intelligence Directorate heads over the years have done have done everything in their power to delay the process, the most outstanding one being Aviv Kochavi, the current Chief of Staff – until the ceremonial laying of the stone in which he was best man, as if it were a project he had championed for.

And now, no one remembers anymore that over the years, the Intelligence Directorate acted as if the move to the Negev will never happen – and even continued with long-term construction at the Glilot camp.

One must mention, though, the real fears behind moving the bases to the south. Unit 8200, in central Israel’s Glilot, is the largest IDF unit. And just like the special intelligence units in Givatayim (adjacent to Tel Aviv), it is first and foremost based on genius minds, more than on anything else.

The Intelligence corps complex in Likit is intended to be an enormous project, and the cost will be no less than 25B NIS for a base that some 12 thousand people will arrive at daily – with barracks for only 5000. The rest will have to get to and from the base daily. The main problem was the absence of a train nearby. For years, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Finance were engaged in an argument as to who will fund a rail extension from Beer Sheba to Likit, or at least provide a shuttle service.

Still, the Jewish mother’s dream from having a doctor for a son, to having him accepted to 8200. This is the entrance ticket to an industry with massive salaries. So fret not, young people will continue to dream about enlisting in the IDF’s intelligence units, even if the bases are moved to the moon. In the future, the Intelligence Corps will offer its soldiers programs that will enable them to study at the Ben Gurion University and even work at the high-tech park, while still in service. And so, the brain drain threat doesn’t seem too serious.

Above all, one must remember: without vision, the Ben Gurion University would not have been established in the 1970s in Beer Sheba – then a backwards town in the middle of the desert. And other national projects would have also remained on paper only, including Herzl’s vision.

The updated moving date now is 2028 – a 10-year delay of the original plan (additional delays withstanding).

And meanwhile, at the Mossad

Now, the Intelligence Directorate’s energy can be channeled towards preparing the actual move as well as real challenges, headed by the day when Iran will already be a nuclear country, or at least a threshold nuclear countries. Have no illusion, Iran has actually achieved that status, even if some miracle happens in Vienna.

Under no circumstances will Iran give up its “threshold” position, which in many ways is better than actually announcing real nuclear capabilities: this way, it will be able to enjoy the power and deterrence of a nuclear power, without having to bear international consequences.

As it appears, Israel no longer has a viable military option to stop the Iranian nuclear program, despite PM Bennett’s recent feisty statements, which are meant for the ears in Vienna. Most of the undercover war is still the job of the Mossad – which according to latest publications is in turmoil, against the structural changes the current head, Dadi Barnea, is promoting.

Based on those reports, several high-ranking members retired from the Mossad due to those changes, but what wasn’t published was the return of two previous seniors, who jumped ship under Barnea’s predecessor, Yossi Cohen. Both started out as field agent operators.

These appointments could point to an increasingly required trend – operating agents behind enemy lines much like in the old days, and probably more than was done over the past few years. This change might stem from the ever-growing difficulties units are facing in this area, in an era where the entire world is networked with facial recognition cameras, and border crossings require biometric passports over the easily-forged ones of the past

You might be interested also