Israel’s Shin Bet security service assured the public Wednesday it was well prepared to thwart any foreign intervention in the country’s upcoming elections, after its director warned a world power was making such efforts. The statement followed reports that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman recently told a closed audience that a foreign country was trying to intervene in the April elections and that operatives were trying to meddle via hackers and cyber technology. “The Shin Bet would like to make clear that the state of Israel and the intelligence community have the tools and capabilities to identify, monitor and thwart foreign influence efforts, should there be any,” it said. “The Israeli defense apparatus is able to guarantee democratic and free elections are held in Israel.” Argaman did not say for whose benefit the alleged meddling was being done. Initial reports about his comments were placed under a military gag order that was later lifted, though the naming of the country is question is still prohibited.
Even so, suspicion immediately fell on Russia, which is accused of trying to influence the 2016 American election in favor of Donald Trump, the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom and other recent European elections.
“We demand that the security forces make sure Putin doesn’t steal the election for his friend, the dictator Bibi,” said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish Meretz party, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname. Netanyahu is far ahead in the polls at the moment, and does not appear to need any outside help.
Israel is a cyber superpower with a governmental cyber defense body. It still uses paper ballots on election day rather than digital systems, so it would seem better prepared for a potential offensive than others. But it could still be vulnerable to other types of pre-election intervention, like hacking into party databases, spreading disinformation through social media and leaking personal and embarrassing material on the candidates, said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, an expert on technology policy at the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute.