Using computer networks for espionage is as important to warfare today as the advent of air support was to warfare in the 20th century, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said Tuesday.

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Yadlin said the ability to collect information and launch cyber-attacks gives small countries, terror groups and even individuals power to inflict serious damage unlimited by range - the kind of damage that was once the province only of large countries.

"It seems sometimes that our enemies would like to give a special prize to those Western companies that developed products that can be bought off the shelf at reasonable prices," he said.

Although the army does not usually publicize the fact, in terms of cyber-warfare, Military Intelligence has now become a combat arm like the Air Force and the Navy. Outside the army, two other government bodies operate in the realm of cyber-warfare. The Shin Bet security service has a division for the protection of information that is responsible for coordinating network protection of government and other bodies of strategic importance such as the Israel Electric Corporation or the Mekorot water company, while a department in the Finance Ministry works to protect government cyber-systems from being hacked.

Experts say coordination between agencies in this field needs to be improved and supervised more closely.