After the Paris terrorist attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he had instructed Israeli intelligence agencies to offer their help to their French counterparts.
This was a political gesture, but redundant.
The Mossad didn’t need such an instruction. For years it has had very good working and collaborative relations with Directorate-General for External Security – its French counterpart – as with many other Western and non-Western agencies.
In recent years, the relations between the two intelligence organizations have improved and the level of trust has increased. The DGSE has a liaison officer in Tel Aviv, as does the Mossad in Paris.
The flow of information is smooth, and both sides share data and routinely consult.
Though, more so in times of urgency.
One can be sure that if the Mossad or other Israeli intelligence agencies – Military Intelligence (Aman and its Sigint unit 8200) and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) – had in their possession, before or after the attack, even the smallest or seemingly meaningless piece of information, they would have rushed it to their French colleagues.
Intelligence collection and the production of analysis is based on one’s priorities.
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It is only natural that the Israeli intelligence’s eyes, ears, hearts and minds would focus on its enemies and rivals who pose an immediate threat to its security and national interests.
The Israeli intelligence’s list of priorities – in order of importance – is Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Israeli intelligence is considered to be probably the best and most informed in monitoring these states and groups.
Israel also closely monitors terrorist group Sinai Province – which, under its previous name, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, was involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli, especially near Eilat. In the last year, the group pledged its allegiance to Islamic State.
With the same logic, Israel is also very much interested in Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida which controls most of the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights.
But since budget and resources are not endless, Israeli intelligence coverage and surveillance of ISIS, al-Qaida and other more remote radical Islamist groups is less intensive. Not to mention that it is not an easy task to plant agents and infiltrate such religiously zealous, hard-headed and ideologically brainwashed groups.
On the other hand, because of their budgets, resources, global positions and outlooks, the US, British and even the French intelligence communities are much more active in monitoring ISIS.
These countries and others are present in Iraqi and Syrian skies and on land. They are part of an international coalition that is involved mainly in air strikes against ISIS, and al-Qaida to a lesser degree, thus it is more likely that they have better knowledge and information about these groups than Israel. More probably that they would provide information to Israel, rather than the other way around.
Nevertheless, nowadays, it is a common practice as part of the global war against terrorism for agencies to share whatever they have with each other and sometimes to even conduct joint intelligence cooperation in the field.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Paris. But was it really behind it? The group routinely takes credit for attacks it wasn’t involved in to glorify its image.
From what is known from the French and international investigation, at least some of the terrorists were French and Belgians of Arab descent, which increases the probability that the attack was the work of a local cell operation in Europe. Maybe they were inspired by ISIS or al-Qaida, as were the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Bali, Casablanca, London and Ankara of the last decade.
It may well be that some of the Paris terrorists, if not all, trained and fought with ISIS or al-Qaida in Syria or Iraq and then returned home. Past acts of terrorism on European soil (in France and at the Jewish museum in Brussels) have provided precedents of such a pattern.
It is easier for the French and Belgium authorities to live with the notion that the orders came from abroad, from a secret command center in Syria or Iraq, than to face the reality that it was the work of locals, a second or third generation of French or Belgian citizens.
If the instructions came from ISIS, the answer is relatively easier: There is a way to respond – to send special forces, to bomb and retaliate. But, if it’s an inside (domestic) job, then what? France can’t declare a war against its Muslim citizens – 10 percent of its population, most good and law-abiding citizens.
Regardless of who organized the cells, equipment, and gave the terrorists the orders to go on their orgy of death, France – together with the EU and the US – must fight ISIS and al-Qaida everywhere, including by sending troops to Syria and Iraq.