New Knesset Cyber Panel to Oversee Security Agencies

Parliamentary committee has already met once in secret; Internet-related security considered paramount.

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An IDF course for cyber-defense in Ramat Gan.
An IDF course for cyber-defense in Ramat Gan. Credit: Alon Ron

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee recently formed a new subcommittee for cyber affairs. The subcommittee is to supervise the work of security agencies in protecting Israel’s Internet-linked infrastructure. Two weeks ago, the subcommittee members received their first survey of the problems in the field, and a program of work was prepared for them. The subcommittee is chaired by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) and includes MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah), MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) and MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas).

The subcommittee met for its first secret session two weeks ago. “Protecting Israel’s strategic and security infrastructures is a very important topic,” Ilatov said. “It should definitely be under close parliamentary supervision, and should be dealt with in the Knesset regularly and not from time to time. So far, discussions on this topic were not broad enough. I spoke with Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zeev Elkin, and we decided to form this subcommittee.”

Ilatov said that the subcommittee would receive assistance from experts in the cyber field to help the MKs bridge the information gap and allow them to supervise the matter properly. Initially, Knesset officials thought that the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services should be keeping track of the intelligence agencies’ work in this field, but in the end the decision was made to form a dedicated subcommittee.

A member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said that the subcommittee was formed because of the importance of the cyber field, which is gaining momentum among security agencies, and also because the field “is relevant at the national level to all the security agencies.”

After being appointed head of the subcommittee, Ilatov is expected to become a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s forum that is examining the political and military echelons’ performance during Operation Protective Edge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to form a national cyber affairs authority last month. The new authority, which will be responsible for protecting Israel’s civilian space from Internet-related threats, will work alongside the National Cyber Bureau. By forming the new authority, Netanyahu rejected the Shin Bet security service’s recommendation on the topic.

The Israel Defense Forces, which regards the cyber field as one of great importance, treats it as a battlefield in every sense. Many cyber attacks against Israel took place during the last period of fighting in Gaza, including on its Internet infrastructure. According to a high-ranking officer in the army’s Computer Service Directorate, the attack was “rather widescale.” The same officer added that the attack originated from Iran and that during Operation Protective Edge there was a “very significant cyber effort, the like of which we had never seen before – neither in terms of scope nor in terms of the kind of targets.”

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