Israeli security behind the scenes: From Google Street View to travel warnings

A look at the Prime Minister’s Counter-Terror Bureau.

A Google Street View car (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Google Street View car
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After the usually low profile National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau on Monday issued a major travel warning for Sinai, as well as medium warnings for Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, many might ask what the bureau does besides issue travel warnings? In a recent the interview, former Counter-Terrorism Bureau Chief and brigadier-general Nitzan Nuriel, still active in the reserves, explained to The Jerusalem Post what the bureau focuses on in a crowded counter- terrorism umbrella where the Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF and police all play major roles.
Nuriel, who is a fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya, spoke of several issues he dealt with during his two stints as head of Counter-Terrorism Bureau during 2007-2012, including immediately preceding the current head, Eitan Ben David, who issued Monday’s warning.
His anecdotes ranged from dealing with natural gas platforms’ security, getting Google to accept limits on its Street View because of security, overruling a minister who wanted to stop all Eilat flights after a 2010 incident, taking the first steps that eventually led to a national cyber security center, and quietly reducing Israeli-Turkey friction after the 2010 Mavi Marmara Gaza protest flotilla.
Nuriel said that the Counter- Terrorism Bureau, part of the National Security Council, was established in 1996, under future Mossad director Meir Dagan.
He said the bureau can play one of three roles, depending on the counter-terrorism situation. It can be a passive “fan-supporter” of other agencies when everything is running smoothly; a coach who might get off the bench and “sit down with the Shin Bet, IDF intelligence and the Mossad and give them ideas, but not orders... and go back to the bench if everything works out”; or a player who actively takes the field and moves matters in a particular direction.
Regarding Israel’s natural gas platforms off the Mediterranean coast, in 2008 Nuriel said there were concerns how security would be maintained, and that certain standards could be required from those running the installations.
On one hand the platforms were planned to be run by private companies, some of which were foreign, and outside of Israeli soil. On the other hand, the natural gas and the electricity it can generate represented a vital national security interest.
Nuriel and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau resolved the issues of “who should define what the threats against them are, what safety exercises must be run and what standard security guidelines must be implemented; no one wanted to touch the issue” because of the legal and bureaucratic headaches.
“In 2008, I went to the prime minister, then Ehud Olmert...
and I became the primary official on the issue,” Nuriel said.
He also convened all of the Israeli military, intelligence and energy related agencies in order to assure proper coordination.
In another case, Nuriel described how when Google Street View “came to Israel, no one knew what to do with it.”
He approached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and assured him, “I’ll handle it.”
Nuriel and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau handled an extensive process with Google, to sort out “where it could take pictures and where it couldn’t.
Where Israel needed to give in [on having pictures online], and where it could not give in.”
He noted that Israel was the first country where Google Street View had been limited by security concerns, so it was new for the social media giant as well.
Asked why the Shin Bet did not want to handle it, as a domestic security issue, he said that then agency director Yuval Diskin absolutely did not want that, and was happy for Nuriel to be wading through the gray issues.
Also during his tenure, there was an incident where an enemy missile was fired at an Israeli helicopter in the South.
Nureil said Transportation Minister Israel Katz wanted to “stop all flights to Eilat. I thought this was a mistake. If every time we fold when something happens, the terrorists win. I helped convince the cabinet to reverse the decision and restart civilian flights,” even though Katz “was not happy” about his intervention.
In place of grounding all flights, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau helped institute modified flight paths and a range of other defensive measures.
In a case of voluntarily surrendering one’s jurisdiction, another major play made by Nuriel and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau was to help convince Netanyahu that the bureau must give up its initial role of leading on the cyber issue and that he must create a separate institution for cyber security.
This eventually became the National Cyber Center, a vast organization coordinating Internet and computer security efforts between the public and private sectors.
In 2010, Nuriel and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau played a key role in directing El Al not to fly to Turkey during the period of bilateral tensions immediately after the Mavi Marmara incident.
Clearly, whether it is in the news or not, the bureau does a lot more than issue travel warnings.