Head of the Shin Bet at the ICT annual World Summit

11 September

Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)

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Head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar, at the annual World Summit of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at Reichman University: “Iran isn’t just a nuclear problem, it is the primary problem of the Middle East. We can only imagine the scope of its future influence if a nuclear agreement is signed and the Iranian coffers are bolstered with an additional 85 billion dollars, some of which will clearly be earmarked for the purposes of terrorism and influencing and strengthening organizations such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.


The Shin Bet director made these remarks on the first day of the ICT conference, held at Reichman University.


Bar emphasized the inherent dangers of social networks in encouraging terrorism and violence, especially among young people: “The power of the internet today is not only in reflecting consciousness, but in creating it. This is easy to do under the nose of a democracy, out of fervent protection of the freedom of speech. The flat and uncontrolled world of social media has gotten hold of a free world in the midst of an intergenerational crisis and a challenge to governance in the wake of the COVID pandemic. This intergenerational crisis has led to the traditional agents of influence and moderation – parental, religious or social authority – losing their power. Their place will be taken by internet influencers or botnets. Because of this, and in a flat and unstandardized world of information – the state is losing the significant relative advantages it had against organizations and radical ideas. The state and the public, especially the youth, are left exposed. This is the new battlefield of the security agencies in the modern world. The incitement leads to mass phenomena, impacts young people who have not yet matured, exposes large populations to the potential of terrorism, and thus challenges the traditional tools of intelligence gathering. It's no wonder that in the widespread violence we've experienced recently – from the Guardian of the Walls riots, to the Temple Mount riots this last Ramadan, to some of the Hilltop Youth – we find many young people between the ages of 14 and 20.”


Bar went on to offer a strategy to meet these challenges: “One: Joining forces with the social media giants to establish a code of ethics that will allow the state and the network to deal effectively with incitement and calls for violence, while maintaining freedom of expression. Two: Regulations that commit the social media companies to a relevant ‘time to market’ for removing content and shutting down profiles, and appropriate evaluations for this in terms of languages and enabling technology, all in the framework of state regulation. Three: Mechanized monitoring that allows for the rapid detection of inflammatory statements, using artificial intelligence, and finally, adapting the enforcement mechanisms used by the state to the cyber world.”


Bar also spoke about the cyber threat facing Israel, saying that the state should require the private sector to take a more active part in defense: “Countries must invest in cyber defense no less than they do in protecting the borders. A breach enables CNA, CNI, and CNE attacks that can lead to the loss of knowledge and databases, the disclosure of secrets, damage to critical infrastructures, economic insecurity, and external influences on public opinion. The tendency not to enforce protective measures in the private sector, in order to promote an industry free of budgetary expenditures, at the end of the day harms the businesses themselves, the resilience of the economy, and the resilience of the state. It may very well may be that the budgetary damage as a result of attacks would be higher than the investment needed to try to prevent them.”


Here, too, the head of the Shin Bet proposed a strategy for action: “The state must establish a mandatory standard for the protection of databases in the private sector as well. It must adapt the definition of critical national infrastructure to the period in which we live. It is inconceivable that a hospital in the State of Israel today would not be defined as critical infrastructure, and not be provided accordingly with layers of protection. Collaboration and accessibility to metadata (and not content) is necessary. This can be achieved by combining regulation and the offering of dividends for private businesses that share information (for example, a discount on insurance policies against ransomware). The state must do more and act faster in this sphere.”


Bar addressed the challenge of the friction between the Arab sector and the rest of Israeli society: “The State of Israel is transitioning from a country with mixed cities into a mixed country. Strong populations are leaving the Arab communities and thereby further hindering their development. This issue has a severe impact on the public. Differences are emphasized more than similarities; this is first and foremost a social challenge, but in light of the incitement, it quickly becomes a security challenge. Despite the two small ‘shakeups’ – tests that Arab society passed positively – since Guardian of the Walls – last Ramadan and during Breaking Dawn, the last round of fighting in Gaza – we must still assume that the likelihood of a violent outbreak in the Arab cities and their involvement during a crisis exists, and inasmuch as there is incitement around a supposed change in the status quo of al-Aqsa, this likelihood will increase. In order to reduce the chances of this happening and to promote and foster integration, the state must take action through three channels: development (curriculums, community centers, security and infrastructure), enforcement (police presence, integrated enforcement, and a campaign against illegal weapons) and influence (encouraging and nurturing moderate local leadership).”


The Shin Bet head also commented on the current efforts that are being undertaken by the agency: “We are in a difficult time and there are many challenges laid out before us. The Shin Bet cannot guarantee, unfortunately, 100 percent success in foiling attacks, but we can guarantee 150 percent effort. The women and men of the Shin Bet are the best that the State of Israel has to offer. They work nights like days, aware of the responsibilities, the challenges, and the statesmanship expected of them, especially in this period. I meet them every day – in the field, in the command and control centers, in the advanced laboratories, with our partners from the IDF, the Mossad and the police, and I am proud and happy that these are the people who are on the frontlines.”


Discussion the developing situation in the territories, Bar said, “The violence in Judea and Samaria is on the rise. We have entered a kind of closed circle: given of the multitude of terrorist axes and the lack of adequate responses by their agencies in light of the limited governance there, our people are required to go in and make arrests and stop attacks every night, to be the target of fire and offer a blanket of protection for the citizens of Israel in the heart of the territory. The price is Palestinian casualties, and a further decline in the status of their security mechanisms. We counted over 130 shooting incidents this year. This is compared to 98 in 2021 and 19 in 2020. This is just one expression of the lack of governance, the scope of the weapons, and the lack of effectiveness of the work of their security establishment. We, on the other hand, thwarted 312 major attacks (stabbings, shootings, suicide bombs), carried out 2,110 arrests, and significantly increased arrests of weapons dealers”.


In his speech, Bar also addressed, of course, the impact of the Iranian threat on the security of Israel and the Middle East in a variety of arenas: “As long as it is under a fundamentalist regime, the trend of expansion and the threat to Sunni hegemony and Israel will continue. Iran's influence is evident in the terrorist arena wherever it is – in the countries surrounding Israel, in the Palestinian arena, in Israel itself, and in cyberspace. Iran is the main axis of most of the phenomena in the regio,n and plays a significant role in the instability we are experiencing in the Palestinian arena. Iran isn’t just a nuclear problem, it is the primary problem of the Middle East. We can only imagine the scope of its future influence if a nuclear agreement is signed and the Iranian coffers are bolstered with an additional 85 billion dollars, some of which will clearly be earmarked for the purposes of terrorism and influencing and strengthening organizations such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”