Analysis: No surprises in report of US, UK spying on Israel

In Israel, it’s a given that foreign intelligence agencies active in the Middle East monitor Israeli military activities.

January 31, 2016 02:06
1 minute read.

THIS HERON drone is of a type recently featured in Northern Command drills aimed at improving responses to attempted infiltrations by terrorists.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Israel’s defense establishment will probably not view reports of US and British intelligence agencies tapping into Israel Air Force video transmissions as being particularly dramatic or surprising revelations.

The gathering of signals intelligence by the US and Britain did not jeopardize Israeli military operations.

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In Israel, it’s a given that foreign intelligence agencies active in the Middle East monitor Israeli military activities.

Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that Israel tracks the activities of other states that deploy forces around the region.

The spying, as detailed in the recent report, does not constitute a breach of Israel’s most classified military secrets. It does, however, provide a strong impetus to continue to improve the encryption of air force transmissions.

The spying revelations are also likely to raise difficult questions about the quality of the military’s past encryption levels.

The successful attempt by the UK’s GCHQ and the US’s NSA to intercept and decrypt IAF drone and pilots’ transmissions from a Cyprus mountaintop facility exposes problems in the ability of the IDF to evade the prying eyes of powerful states.

The US intelligence community and those of other allied Western states, however friendly, are keen on knowing in real-time what Israel’s air platforms are up to at any moment. It is up to the IDF to ensure that its operational transmissions remain out of reach.

Much of the encryption of military communications is overseen by the IDF’s Center for Encryption and Information Security (CEIS). This secretive military unit is tasked with the job of making sure no one, particularly not hostile entities, can listen in on sensitive communications.

The unit enables missiles to send messages safely to control stations, jet fighter pilots and drones to communication with airbases, or rocket and missile defense batteries to send and receive signals before intercepting incoming projectiles.

The hope is that in 2016, the IDF as a whole, and the IAF in particular, have significantly upgraded their video encryption, compared to 2010, the last known year that friendly states were regularly deciphering video feeds from Israeli drones.

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