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Israel Defence Forces Will Not Create a Cyber Command, But Will Strengthen Military Cyber Defences

Soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) cyber warfare Unit 8200. Photograph courtesy of Moshe Shai/Flash90.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has decided not to create a unified cyber command that would have placed its signals intelligence collection, offensive cyber operations, and cyber defence units under one central military organisation that would have been the equivalent of Israel’s land, sea, and air forces.

Instead, the IDF will maintain its signals intelligence collection organisation, known as Unit 8200, under the Military Intelligence Directorate, and its cyber network operations and defence organistion, known as the Computer Services Directorate, within the IDF’s C4I Directorate.

While the decision appears to be a vote for the status quo in IDF cyber operations, the decision not to create a unified cyber command does involve changes in the roles and missions of the IDF’s Computer Services Directorate. Instead of only being responsible for network operations, the directorate will be responsible for defending all IDF networks against attack and will also be authorised to respond to cyber-attacks against the IDF.

This is a significant change to the directorate’s longstanding roles and mission, to the extent that one IDF officer with knowledge of the changes told The Times of Israel, “That’s a change of DNA, not just a change of words.”

The decision comes after intensive planning was begun some time ago by the IDF to create a standalone cyber command, but objections from senior IDF Military Intelligence Directorate officers have stymied the initiative. There have also been concerns that the field of cyber warfare is changing too fast and this has resulted in the decision to not create a unified cyber command.

The IDF’s cautious approach towards cyber warfare organisation reflects a desire to preserve what seems to work well in the still emerging field of warfare while allowing the IDF to still come to grips with other aspects of the cyber domain

“We do so with caution so as not to make any mistakes, mistakes that have been made elsewhere, and to not harm things that are currently working well. At the same time we are strengthening our intelligence gathering area, and in light of our achievements, that is something that we do not want to hurt,” a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post in January 2017.

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