Leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz speaks on February 28, 2019.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
The report that Blue and White leader and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s phone was hacked raises many questions. Who broke into his phone? What did they find there? Does it leave him susceptible to blackmail and other pressures? Why are we only finding out about it now, four months after the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) informed Gantz of the breach?
The original report on Channel 12 about the matter said Iran hacked Gantz’s phone. We soon learned that there was no concern that sensitive security materials were found, which makes sense, since the hack took place years after Gantz’s retirement from the IDF, and he has not worked in a national security role since.
Still, that didn’t stop rumors from flying about awkward personal materials being on the phone. Blue and White emphatically denied them, adding that Gantz has never been blackmailed. Instead, the party blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff for spreading the innuendo.
At the same time, according to Amit Segal, the journalist who broke the story about the hacked phone, neither Gantz nor the Shin Bet denied that Iran was behind the hack, though some in Blue and White continue to point fingers elsewhere. Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon in an interview with Army Radio, for example, called this a “typical Netanyahu trick,” and said he has “difficulty believing the Iranians are interested in Benny Gantz’s phone.”
Others in Blue and White did not go as far, and simply accused Netanyahu of being behind the leak, something Segal refuted and the Likud flat-out denied, saying Netanyahu did not know about it and didn’t have anything to do with it.
Assuming what is understood at this point is true – that Iran was behind the hack and they didn’t find anything that could impact national security – there is certainly still reason for concern.
This is comparable to the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, and their release to the public shortly before the US election. The American intelligence community found that the Russian government was behind the hack, and sent the materials to Wikileaks, which posted the emails online.
That hack was not a matter of national security in the usual sense, either. But it did threaten the US, and the Gantz hack threatens Israel, in that they are cases of adversaries seeking to intervene in our internal government processes, undermine our democratic elections and destabilize us.
Shortly after this election was called, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman warned of foreign intervention, but would not say which country was involved, their methods or their goals. The broad assumption was that Russia was involved and that the intervention would take place mainly through disinformation, including the use of social media bots to spread fabricated news articles.
The latest news gives us a better idea of what Argaman may have been referring to. If the reported timeline is correct, Argaman made the remarks two months after Gantz’s phone was hacked. The breach would have taken place before the election was officially called, but when an election seemed bound to happen soon, and when Gantz was thought to be a likely contender.
There is no indication that some kind of secure phone protocol has been put into place for Israeli politicians in recent months. Netanyahu is known to not carry a phone, but everyone else in the Security Cabinet has a smart phone. If anything, this latest scandal has brought to light how little is done to protect the digital footprints of those who are privy to top-secret information, especially when it comes to their phones. That is a scandal in itself – that despite knowing there is a threat, some of the most obvious steps are not being taken to protect our leaders.
The next phone to be hacked could have sensitive information of a national or personal nature in it, and the impact could be even greater. Let this Gantz hack, which seems mostly harmless at this point, sound the alarm so that greater security measures are taken, for the good of the entire State of Israel.
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