Conscience, the fatal flaw in the intelligence machine

The commander of the Israeli army’s highly prestigious 8200 intelligence unit yesterday dismissed 43 of his reservists. This is big news in Israel, because Unit 8200 is responsible for signals intelligence, nowadays known both as the cutting-edge of technology and one of the most powerful instruments of government control. If you doubt this, read the letter, written last September, that led to the reservists’ dismissal. In it they say:

The Palestinian population under military rule is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. While there are severe limitations on the surveillance of Israeli citizens, the Palestinians are not afforded this protection. There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence.
Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.
Intelligence allows for the continued control over millions of people through thorough and intrusive supervision and invasion of most areas of life. This does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence further distancing us from the end of the conflict. [my emphasis]

972 Magazine quotes the reservists giving examples of their routine army duties:

…revealing the sexual preferences of Palestinians in order to blackmail them and thereby recruit them as collaborators. That, or by exploiting economic hardships or medical needs of Palestinians who need treatment in Israel. The other main examples deal with … assassinations and bombings of Gaza since Cast Lead, including targets that [the signatories] say were unjustified, caused unnecessary harm to innocents and didn’t contribute to the security of residents of Israel.

The letter ends by saying that the signatories “refuse to take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians” and, believing that Israel’s future depends on opposition to “these injustices”, call on other Intelligence Corps soldiers to do the same.

You might think that a few dozen reservists don’t count for very much in the great scheme of things. But in fact, the military and political establishment are seriously concerned about their letter. Its publication met with condemnation from senior figures, including Netanyahu himself. Unit 8200’s strongest reputation is as a high-tech incubator, a major source of the control and monitoring technology that Israel sells around the world. If opposition to the most important methods of the Occupation can arise here, in the very heart of the privilege that sustains it, where can it be safe from that most dangerous of enemies, conscience?

Netanyahu in Paris

The shootings in Paris, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket, have naturally started far-reaching debates about freedom of expression, the boundary between satirical comment and hate speech, and the place of Islam in European society. These questions deserve serious attention, and I would rather say nothing about them than produce a glib self-serving soundbite in response. It’s difficult, though, to resist commenting on the behaviour of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who invited himself to the massive demonstration in Paris that followed the attacks.

Ha’aretz reports that the French Prime Minister François Hollande asked both Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to attend, so that the event would focus on solidarity with the citizens of France rather than importing the Middle East conflict. Both agreed, but Netanyahu changed his mind when he heard that two of his rivals in the government coalition intended to go. With elections in Israel less than two months away, no-one can afford to miss a grandstanding opportunity like that; true, nearly twenty people died, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, right? Netanyahu pushed into to the front line of dignitaries and marched, waving and beaming to the people on the balconies along the way.

For the French authorities, desperate both to reassure Jews that they have a safe future in France and to manage the threat of radicalisation without alienating all French Muslims, nothing could have been less welcome than Netanyahu’s lectures on how to fight “Islamic terror”—the Israeli way, of course, with extreme repression—coupled with the message to France’s Jews that they will never be safe anyway unless they come to Israel. It is curious that no-one ever seems to notice the contradiction in the calls to make aliyah: while we are being told never to give in to terrorism, whose aim is primarily to terrify us, we are simultaneously being told to give in to terror and flee for safety.

But this kind of reasoning is irrelevant outside the real context of Netanyahu’s comments. Right now, his only concern is to make headline material for HaYom, the Israeli freesheet owned by his American billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson. We can expect more stunts like this—including military provocations—in the next two months and the closer the polls run, the more desperate will be the search for favourable publicity.