The hardest role for intelligence agencies in this era is parsing out the key 20 items out of 12 million collected items of information per day, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ephraim Lapid told The Jerusalem Post.
Speaking to the Post in connection with the publication of his newest book, The Israeli Intelligence Community: An Insider’s View (Gefen Publishing), he said probably “only 20 items per day are actually important” from the vast human, signal, satellite and cyber intelligence gathered by Israel’s apparatus.
The key issue to watch going forward is artificial intelligence, Lapid said.
“Artificial intelligence [AI] is the next big issue. It will be big both in collection and assessment,” he said, adding that spy agencies must continue to keep a close watch on social-media trends.
For example, the largest volume of intelligence in the current era on what is happening on a given day in a remote part of Syria is often social media, Lapid said.
Regarding sharing intelligence, the new deals with the UAE and Bahrain could increase the broader relationship between those countries and Israel, he said, but “there have been many years of intelligence sharing” already with these countries.
Regarding other differences between the decades of intelligence that Lapid participated in and has analyzed, in the past, the main concern was “early warning [of invasion]… we were very worried about a sudden attack,” whereas now threats from Iran and terrorists are more complex, he said.
Intelligence has shifted targeting operations to being far more precise than in the past and the recent positive – and not fully appreciated – contributions that spy agencies have made to combating coronavirus, Lapid said.
Regarding Iran, he said: “Intelligence [agencies] cannot stop and can only delay” any ambition to obtain nuclear weapons.
“The history of nuclear weapons, including intelligence leading to the attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility,” shows that bigger political and military decisions must be made, Lapid said.
“Only an attack was enough” with Iraq, and with Iran, the picture is even hazier because the Islamic Republic has some 100 nuclear sites and has acquired far more expertise within its community of nuclear scientists, he said.
“With Iran, you cannot just destroy the knowledge and blow up one site to end the project,” Lapid said. “Only a diplomatic solution can fully stop” the nuclear program. Slowing down the program using Israel’s spy agencies’ abilities could still be part of the picture, he added.
“I don’t think Iran will bomb Israel if they got a nuclear weapon… They still do risk calculations,” Lapid said. “They have something to lose.”
His book is unique because of its focus as a comprehensive basic reference book on the Israeli intelligence community’s structure and way of thinking, he said.
Previous books were either personal memoirs by former agents or popular media books zoning in on a small number of specific operational missions, he added.
The book starts with a chapter surveying the three main elements of Israeli intelligence: the IDF, the domestic-focused Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the global-focused Mossad.
There is also a special section about international intelligence cooperation.