Bennett to push for Palestinians to join Israeli hi-tech sector

Speaking at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, Bennett said he would seek to integrate, "Palestinians in Ramallah primarily, but not only."

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the CyberTech conference on 3/3/2022. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the CyberTech conference on 3/3/2022.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday that he will be pushing to get more Palestinians involved in the Israeli hi-tech sector.

Speaking at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv, Bennett said he would seek to integrate “Palestinians in Ramallah primarily, but not only. My instruction to the government is to make it smooth so they [Palestinians] can work in Israeli hi-tech. We’ll see. I don’t know if it will work, but I am certainly interested in trying.”

He also said he would encourage both the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Israeli-Arab sectors to go into hi-tech and cyber, noting an upcoming bill to facilitate Haredim going into the work sector, even if it means giving many of the exemptions from serving in the IDF.

Bennett also made more waves in his appearance, in one instance indirectly confirming details of Iran’s attack on Israel’s water sector in April 2020.

Giving a theoretical example of the dangers of cyberattacks, he gave a fairly specific example that seemed to match that Iranian cyber attack.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the CyberTech conference on 3/3/2022. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the CyberTech conference on 3/3/2022. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

He said there is “cyber that actually creates a physical impact, it could influence sewage systems, it could change the amount of chloride in water and potentially poison people.”

In another statement, he revealed that the Israeli government had warned a specific company that it knew it would be cyber-attacked and that the company did not respond fast enough to the warning, and was hacked.

In prior statements, former Israel National Cyber Directorate chief Yigal Unna has accused both Hillel Yaffe Medical Center and the Atraf website for LGBTQ dating of responding slowly to warnings to defend themselves and for faulty cyber defense.

Hillel Yaffe and the Atraf website rejected these charges, but Bennett seemed to confirm Unna’s version, without naming the specific companies.

Bennett said, “We have many cases of advanced intelligence on cyber attacks, of real-time intelligence on cyber attacks. We want to train folks in advance to protect themselves, we have ongoing channels with these organizations so when there is a new attack, they can within minutes upgrade or close a hole.”

“I don’t want to talk about a specific example, but we had an attack where we knew about the attack and called them up and told them: do what you need to do to seal the hole. They got attacked. The government doesn’t have the authority to command a commercial company to protect itself.”

He said, “I am not sure I want to be able to tell a company it must protect itself. I am not sure. Maybe it is something we have to work through. But I want companies to protect themselves because people get harmed.”

In addition, Bennett said he has a group of former hi-tech colleagues with whom he checks in to make sure there is no new “dumb stuff” the government is doing in the legislative and regulations arena which will harm the hi-tech sector.

The prime minister also seemed to support NSO Group, without mentioning it by name, when asked about Israel’s responsibilities in the world.

Bennett said that both cyber offense and defense were crucial to Israeli security and that even a rifle was dangerous if misused, but crucial if used in self-defense.

Further, he said that Israel should be thoughtful about sharing certain cyber capabilities globally.

Discussing cyber weapons, he said, “I do not agree that these are bad weapons. A rifle can be good or bad… it is how you use the tool and what you use the tool for. That is where questions need to be asked. Cyber is just a new dimension. Saying cyber warfare is bad or good is irrelevant. I know Israel is very thoughtful about all of this.”

“My responsibility as the prime minister of Israel is first and foremost to protect the State of Israel from lots of bad folks out there who want to destroy us. I’m going to use every single tool on earth to protect [Israel, but] when working with others, we need to be thoughtful.”

“Both obviously,” he said in responding to a question about whether Israel should focus more on defensive or offensive cyber.

At the same time, Bennett said that Israel has started to share real-time cyber intelligence about malicious cyber attacks with other countries to help them and itself in defeating such attacks standing shoulder to shoulder.

“Israel is signing deals with other countries to share in real-time, to share regarding potent malicious activities. With a bunch of activities, if you see real-time malicious activity, there is a much higher chance of saying 'yes, this is malicious,'” if you share and cooperate with other countries, he said.

He stated that “the biggest problem in defense is distinguishing between noise and malicious activity. The amount of stuff going on is infinite. Who are the bad guys within this ocean of good guys? We are in touch with the UK, Italy, and India. We are all getting attacked from a new MO, modus operandi. Within minutes, we can defend ourselves, but if each [country was] isolated, we wouldn’t know it’s malicious activity.”

Later at the conference, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the challenges of defending the Mossad and other security agencies from cyber attacks, when it comes to their support services.

Netanyahu said, “If want to defend [from a cyber] attacker regarding the military, the Mossad and the Shin Bet. It’s easy to defend them, put on a fence around them. How do you defend the cleaning company which sweeps their offices or the medical company which treats their personnel?”

“These are complex questions. Do you force companies to join cyber defense requirements? Where do you draw the line? No one knew. Each of the leading countries asked the others. Nobody knows!” he said.

He then referenced the Pegasus police spying allegations being fought over in his public corruption trial, saying “the most important regulation is to protect civil liberties. That doesn’t work so much, as you can see. It is a real problem. You cannot use advanced spyware against your citizens. You cannot do that.”

Netanyahu said he could offer “personal testimony” on how big a problem this is, presumably referring to the police’s admission that they hacked the cell phone of one of his former aides turned state’s witness.