Netanyahu: Israel prepared to fight election interference cyber-attack

The prime minister's comments come in response to fears of Russian interference in the Israeli election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018
Israel is ready for any scenario involving foreign attempts to influence its election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
“Israel is prepared to fight any cybernetic intervention,” Netanyahu said in the Knesset, in response to a journalist’s question on the matter. “We are ready for any scenario. There is no country more ready than we are.”
Netanyahu made the remark a day after reports of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Nadav Argaman saying a foreign government “is trying to intervene – and I know what I am talking about.” Argaman said that he does not yet know the political goal of the foreign country – whose name is still under gag order – that is trying to interfere with Israeli elections.
Though no Israeli officials publicly said which country is suspected of election interference, Russia took the initiative to deny that it is the culprit.
“It is out of the question. Russia has never interfered in elections in any country, and has no plans to do it in the future,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russian Embassy in Israel’s Twitter feed.
Opposition MKs expressed concern about the matter, calling for the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to hold a meeting.
The Central Elections Committee director-general Orly Ades said it is aware of the threats and has taken steps to counter them.
“These topics are on the committee’s agenda. The committee takes action in cooperation with the relevant professional bodies in Israel, including the National Cybersecurity Authority,” Ades said.
Along with security officials, the Central Elections Committee studied examples of interventions in other countries in recent years, and is working on an outline that includes ensuring greater awareness in the different bodies taking part in the election.
Some of the steps being taken must remain confidential for security reasons, Ades said.
He also pointed out that the vast majority of votes in Israel are counted by hand.
“This process is independent, supervised and mostly not computerized, and therefore, there is not a great chance of it being disrupted,” she said. “For those few areas in which there is computerization and cybersecurity efforts are necessary, the committee will be helped by various security bodies and experts.”
As for disinformation on social media, Ades said she and Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, the Central Elections Committee chairman, met with senior Facebook officials, including Jordana Cutler, director of policy for Facebook Israel, and Sean Evins, head of politics and government outreach for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Facebook. During their meeting, they discussed expected challenges in the upcoming election.
Melcer has the legal authority to decide if an election-related message is illegal under campaign laws, and to order it be taken down.