Israel is too Secretive

One common error in the intelligence world is exaggerated secrecy. There is much information in intelligence archives around the world that should be declassified and made available to historians, journalists and the general public just as the East German Stasi archives were made completely public. Informational compartmentalization also creates myopia in there being few people with access to comprehensive information. There is even a problem of intelligence officials not trusting politicians and civil servants due to fears of leaks and thus not giving them sufficient information to make good and informed decisions.

With Israel there is certainly a problem of withholding too much intelligence data. E.g. is it very likely that very few Israeli politicians have been informed by Israeli intelligence officials as to the strategy behind the indigenous restoration project in Judea and Samaria. Most Israeli politicians who support the project do so for nationalist and/or religious reasons and those who oppose it (in part or in whole) oppose it for all the wrong reasons. There is no reason for Israel to be secretive about the strategy behind the indigenous restoration project or at least not so anymore. In fact, not providing sufficient information about the project has deprived people in Israel and around the world the opportunity to fairly form their own educated opinions on the subject. The project is legitimate and necessary, and being opaque about the strategy behind it has severely backfired in e.g. virtually all pro-Israel members of Congress from the Democratic party now opposing the indigenous restoration project in Judea and Samaria.

When Israel makes war is it always a surprise and instead of explaining the war plans beforehand to friendly nations has Israel made it a habit to try to explain everything in real time, something which is terribly ineffective in the heat of war with all enemy disinformation swirling around. Rather, as much information as possible about the plans for the next war needs to be declassified and it is essential to provide statistical estimates about collateral damage that is likely to occur accidentally even when everything is done to avoid collateral damage. It is essential for Israel to provide as much information as possible to diplomatic, intelligence, military and political interlocutors abroad and to do so many months before the outbreak of the actual war. They should be asked for input if they have better ideas or are able to provide alternative plans that would achieve the same objectives.

Another area of exaggerated “secrecy” relates to the question of Median Jews. The existence of core Median Judaism has been known to Israeli intelligence and the intelligence world at large since 2014. Yet, the Mossad has kept the public uniformed due to the problem of countries in the Middle East not being willing to allow Median Jewish Aliyah (immigration) to Israel. The Israeli public deserves to know that the descendants of the ten deported Israelite tribes have been finally rediscovered and number in the tens of millions. What kind of secrecy is this to keep most Israeli politicians and the Israeli public uninformed while all foreign governments (including Israel’s enemies) are perfectly well informed indeed? The notion that core Median Jewry in the Middle East would be harmed by making this public knowledge does not hold water since the information has for years been circulating by word of mouth among the members of the denominations of core Median Judaism in the Middle East and the regimes where they live are well informed about it as well.

There was a time when Israel scored points with international public opinion by making available classified intelligence data to newspapers in the United Kingdom about daring Israeli military and intelligence operations. Israeli intelligence archives are vast in Israel yearly sharing huge amounts of information with the United States and other allies. Yet, the Israeli intelligence community insists on keeping its own public in the dark and sometimes even providing disinformation to the Israeli public when e.g. giving deliberately false, rosy estimates as to the chances of success for final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

There is a general sense in the international community that no one understands why Israel builds in Judea and Samaria or why Israel engages in bombing campaigns against Gaza every few years or so. The underlying problem is not only exaggerated secrecy but also Israeli suspicions towards foreign nations and in return international suspicions against Israel.

The IDF should create a war blog where it provides information in real time about all non-secret military strikes whether in war or between the wars. There should be as detailed information as possible about every strike without compromising intelligence sources, and coordinates, addresses and maps should be provided to locate the targets. Every strike should have its own detailed blog post and essential information certainly includes who the target was and why he/they was/were targeted.

Another example of exaggerated Israeli secrecy is not revealing that the Muslim Brotherhood is a Turkey-based international intelligence agency focused on political action worldwide. Israel surely sits on a wealth of intelligence data about the global operations of the Muslim Brotherhood which could help opponents of the Brotherhood delegitimize its infiltrators and front organizations worldwide. Israel should release as much information as possible about political action by Muslim Brotherhood intelligence and other adversaries of Israel around the world, including the BDS movement as run by Palestinian intelligence. 

There are no doubt many other fields of intelligence data where information could and should be released and where this would certainly benefit the Israeli national interest. Unnecessarily refraining from publishing intelligence data is routine in the intelligence world despite this often severely harming the national interest. This is myopic and Israel needs a new policy of publishing as much intelligence information as possible online and in print in both English and Hebrew so that the Israeli public and international public opinion can be better educated and informed indeed.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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