An Israeli spy boss has warned that Russia will try to meddle in the country’s elections due to take place this spring.
Nadav Argaman, the director of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, made the unusually stark warning this week, revealingly adding: “I know what I’m talking about.”
Israel’s Military Censor initially stopped the press from reporting Argaman’s comments, but later allowed them, while stipulating that the country about which he was talking could not be named.
Argaman told a Friends of Tel Aviv University audience that the unreportable country would “attempt to [interfere] by means of cyber technology, hackers etc,” adding: “I don’t know for what side they will be taking action. At this point I can’t identify their political interest —but it will interfere.”
The personal friendship between Israeli incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin is well-known, with each respecting the other’s geopolitical priorities in the Middle East, in particular Syria.
A Kremlin spokesman denied that it had its eyes on the Israeli elections, saying Russia “did not intervene, does not intervene and does not intend to intervene” in elections of other states.
A Shin Bet spokesman quickly sought to allay concerns, saying Israel had “the tools and capabilities to identify, monitor and thwart foreign influence efforts, should there be any… The Israeli defence apparatus is able to enable democratic and free elections to be held in Israel”.
Israel’s State Comptroller, Yosef Shapira, said his office was running exercises to test Israel’s readiness for any external election interference.
US intelligence says Russia meddled in the last US election to help Donald Trump get elected, including by using every social media platform, after hackers accessed Hillary Clinton’s personal emails.
There have been suggestions that the Brexit vote was also targeted, while Ukrainian and French leaders have also said they were hit, with tens of thousands of emails from French President Emanuel Macron’s team leaked hours before the country’s elections last year.
States around the world have added layers of extra protection to ensure Russian hackers cannot influence their democratic processes, and tech firms are now on the lookout for the infamous ‘bots’ who re-post divisive or politically biased reports.
Israel uses paper ballots rather than digital systems, so analysts believe that Russia will target online voter lists and databases, and digital links to polling stations.
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