The Military Intelligence Directorate A’man, or Agaf Hamode’in in Hebrew, is one of the oldest Directorates in the IDF. It was established as soon as the state of Israel was founded. The main mission of the Military Intelligence Directorate is to supply the government and IDF with intelligence warnings and alerts daily and during wartime to protect Israel from threats. It produces comprehensive national intelligence briefings for the prime minister and the cabinet, daily intelligence reports, risk-of-war estimates, target studies on nearby Arab countries, and communications intercepts. It also handles cross-border operations. The organization uses reconnaissance commando teams behind enemy lines, aerial reconnaissance and military attaches stationed in overseas embassies to gather intelligence.
To enable security forces to defend Israel against threats, the Intelligence Corps must utilize many resources and tightly track terrorist activities and developments in Arab countries as well as technological advancements worldwide.
Tracking the growth of terrorist organizations requires in-depth intelligence collection. Intelligence information comes from a variety of sources and is processed by Intelligence Corps soldiers to create an updated situation assessment.
The corps’ soldiers work day and night on improving their methods for better collection, processing and evaluation of intelligence information. Constantly developing new systems and tools for intelligence tracking is also crucial. The soldiers are responsible for transmitting the information and updating it in real time.
Soldiers are trained for military intelligence at the Military Intelligence and Cyber Instruction Unit (MICIU), the largest intelligence school in the Middle East. Soldiers learn about the language and culture of their enemies and can become fluent in a regional language in under two months. In addition to Arabic dialects, the school has increasingly focused on fundamentalist Islam and Persian. Hebrew is also taught to new immigrants and Israelis whose language skills need improvement. Students study from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily for 10 weeks to get a matriculation certificate and then spend another 10 weeks in advanced courses.
The directorate is made up of three main units – the 8200 Unit, the 9900 Unit and the 504 Unit. The biggest of which is the 8200 Unit (Hebrew: יחידה 8200, Yehida shmonae -Matayim) responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption. Soldiers in the unit are in charge of developing and utilizing information gathering tools, analyzing, processing and sharing of the gathered info to relevant officials. The unit operates in all zones and in wartime, they join combat field headquarters in order to enable a faster flow of information.
Some roles in the Military Intelligence Directorate include:
- Listening. Soldiers who do this job have to be able to combine a very high level of Arabic with selection and synthesis abilities.
- Translation of information. The translators must not only translate a text from one language to another but must also master tools in order to be selective in translations based on information from reports.
- Decryption of aerial images. This involves interpreting aerial information and turning it into maps.
- Electronics technician. This includes the establishment of verification systems, manufacture of electronic cards, construction of secure computer terminals, and more.
“Unit 8200 is probably the foremost technical intelligence agency in the world and stands on a par with the NSA in everything except scale,” according to Peter Roberts, senior research fellow at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute. “They are highly focused on what they look at — certainly more focused than the NSA – and they conduct their operations with a degree of tenacity and passion that you don’t experience elsewhere.”
The corps also has an elite unit, Sayeret Matkal. It is considered the best combat unit in the Israeli army and one of the best special forces units in the world. It is a unit where professionalism is built into a way of life. The unit is not part of any regional command; it only responds to orders from the Chief of General Staff.
The Shin Bet
Sherut Habitachon Haklali (Shabak), better known as the Shin Bet, is Israel’s internal counterespionage and counterterrorist agency. It’s motto, inscribed on the organization seal, is “Defends and Shall Not Be Seen.” It is responsible for the security and protection of Israel’s prime minister and other governmental leaders as well as of defense industries, sensitive economic locations and Israeli installations abroad. The Shin Bet, which is sometimes compared to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), also handles overall security for Israel’s national airline, El Al.
The Shin Bet has successfully adapted to the changing security landscape to address modern problems. Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv during Israel's Cyber Week 2017, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman said that the security agency had stopped over 2,000 potential terror attacks using cyber-technology since the beginning of 2016.
One of the world’s best known intelligence agencies, the Mossad (short for Hamossad Le’mode’in U’le’tafkidim Meyuchadim) uses agents to collect intelligence, conduct covert operations and counterterrorism. Its primary focus is on the Arab nations and pro-Arab organizations. According to published accounts, the Mossad has eight departments; the largest of these is the Collections Department, which is responsible for espionage operations and has offices abroad under both diplomatic and unofficial cover.
A clandestine operations branch, Metzada, executes delicate actions (including assassinations and sabotage) against foreign targets that are considered a significant threat to Israeli national security.
The Political Action and Liaison Department conducts political activities and relations with friendly foreign intelligence services and nations with which Israel has no diplomatic relations.
Lechima P’sichologit, the department known as LAP, covers the ever-growing sphere of psychological warfare and propaganda.
Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry
Shin Bet head says over 2,000 attacks thwarted with cybertech, Times of Israel, (June 27, 2017);
Anna Ahronheim, “The IDF’s Secret Weapon Against Iran,” Jerusalem Post, (October 10, 2019);
“Unit 8200,” Wikipedia;
John Reed, “Unit 8200: Israel’s cyber spy agency,” Financial Times, (July 10, 2015);
Military Intelligence Directorate.