Military Intelligence is collecting information about left-wing organizations abroad that the army sees as aiming to delegitimize Israel, according to senior Israeli officials and Israel Defense Forces officers.
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The sources said MI's research division created a department several months ago that is dedicated to monitoring left-wing groups and will work closely with government ministries. In recent weeks, the head of the new unit has been taking part in discussions in the Prime Minister's Office about how to prepare for the possible arrival of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.
The undefined and potentially broad scope of such a venture, which IDF sources say is focusing on how to respond to maritime convoys aimed at breaching Israel's Gaza blockade, has some Foreign Ministry officials concerned that the army is overreaching.
"We ourselves don't know exactly how to define delegitimization," said one ministry official. "This is a very abstract definition. Are flotillas to Gaza delegitimization? Is criticism of settlements delegitimization? It's not clear how Military Intelligence's involvement in this will provide added value."
Military Intelligence officials said the initiative reflects an upsurge in worldwide efforts to delegitimize Israel and question its right to exist.
"The enemy changes, as does the nature of the struggle, and we have to boost activity in this sphere," an MI official said. "Work on this topic proceeds on the basis of a clear distinction between legitimate criticism of the State of Israel on the one hand, and efforts to harm it and undermine its right to exist on the other."
The new MI unit will monitor Western groups involved in boycotting Israel, divesting from it or imposing sanctions on it. The unit will also collect information about groups that attempt to bring war crime or other charges against high-ranking Israeli officials, and examine possible links between such organizations and terror groups.
MI decided to create the unit in the wake of investigations of Israel's deadly takeover in May 2010 of a maritime convoy aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade, which found that the country's intelligence agencies failed to provide information that could have helped Israel adequately prepare for the violent resistance that naval commandos encountered aboard the Mavi Marmara.
The unit's other spheres of responsibility have yet to be clearly defined, but are expected to involve pinpointing the subjects that Israel's other intelligence agencies should investigate, sources said.
The quality of intelligence information about groups aimed at delegitimizing Israel has improved and the quantity has increased in recent months, said an official in the Prime Minister's Office.
"There is a demand for such information," he said. "Officials need information on such topics, and it hasn't always been available in the past, because there was a lack of awareness pertaining to this topic in the intelligence community. The new unit's orientation will be to collect information and carry out intelligence research for the Foreign Ministry and other government ministries.
The unit has the support of Brig. Gen. (res. ) Yossi Kuperwasser, the director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry and a previous head of MI's research division. During the second intifada, he pushed for the intelligence community's large-scale involvement in public advocacy and diplomatic matters, a stance that was criticized by other MI officers.