Soldiers from an Israeli military intelligence unit took part in discussions of a committee appointed by the National Security Council, which among other things recommended an “awareness” campaign to help prevent the development of civil unrest as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Senior Military Intelligence officials confirmed the participation of officers in the discussions, and that they aided the National Security Council in gathering information.
Responding to Haaretz's inquiry on the matter, the Israeli army's spokesperson stressed that the officers did not take part in discussions concerning social protests, and that the intelligence branch does not collect information about the citizens of Israel.
As Haaretz reported earlier this week, the NSC committee addressing the coronavirus pandemic two weeks ago discussed the possibility of a popular revolt over growing economic, psychological, and health problems in Israel. The group discussed possible ways to prevent such a rebellion against the authorities. They considered how “to halt, in time, the risks that could very well bring about wide-scale social unrest,” thereby possibly leading to protests against the government and its institutions.
Alongside the representatives of the NSC and the military, a group of 30 participants took part in discussions, hailing from academic, defense, law enforcement, and government fields. The committee was headed by Prof. Eli Waxman of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
Haaretz has learned that Waxman named his son as a research assistant for the committee. His son serves as an officer in a Military Intelligence Unit which, in regular times, gathers intelligence information on the enemy using advanced technological means.
Sources in the IDF told Haaretz that the officer asked his commanders for permission to help the NSC committee. After approval was given, additional soldiers and officers from the unit participated in the group’s work and discussions besides Waxman’s son – which were held remotely via Zoom. Upon the establishment of the committee, Waxman asked his son and colleagues to aid the committee in gathering relevant information in Israel and from around the world, which could serve as a database.
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As opposed to Lt. Col. Zeev Siminosky and Lt. Col. Daniel Sabag, who were official representatives of the IDF in the committee, and thus official members, Waxman’s son was not listed as an intelligence officer, but rather as a research assistant.
According to members of the committee, Waxman’s son is “an officer in the intelligence branch who volunteered to help out as a research assistant on matters of gathering open information from around the world and building a database to support the committee’s work. He led teams of volunteers from the unit who specialize in such work, with the approval of his superiors.”
Meanwhile, Waxman's son's colleagues from his unit were never mentioned as members of the committee. In addition, in the appendixes written by the committee and submitted to various bodies, it is not mentioned that Military Intelligence took part in gathering data or aided the committee in its work.
Officials from the NSC told Haaretz that the composition of the committee was determined by its chairman, and said they do not know anything about the claims that the chairman’s son was appointed as a research assistant.
Participants in the discussions raised a number of possible causes for unrest, including a sense that authorities have lost control, a loss of confidence in the political system or a loss of trust in those issuing orders on behalf of the authorities. Great weight was also given to economic hardship being a central factor, particularly people’s inability to pay rent, mortgages, and bills, or to buy food – as well as fears, justified or not, of food shortages.
They also cited a possible trend toward focusing on a “scapegoat” for the crisis, such as the ultra-Orthodox community, Arabs or foreigners. Other possible trends mentioned include a feeling within a specific population group that they’ve been neglected by the authorities, such as those in aged care facilities, or a drop in personal security, and the potential for groups or individuals to take law into their own hands.
For these reasons, the document says, the public could act out against state institutions in a way that could put “democracy and Israeli society” at a long-term risk.
Besides the proposed “awareness campaign” to influence the public and reduce feelings of discontent, the possibility of government ministries establishing a panel responsible for influencing the public and measuring the public’s spirit was raised. The goals of such a campaign would be to spread a message of shared responsibility among all segments of the population, and that everyone in Israeli society, from all backgrounds, is in the same situation, with a shared fate and mutual responsibility.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit, said that the “Military Intelligence directorate has made a large effort in the national fight against the coronavirus. In this effort, representatives of the intelligence branch aided the NSC, with the authority and approval of the relevant bodies, in collecting open information from the internet on planning exit strategies from all over the world, and making them accessible to the members of the committee.”
“It should be emphasized that Military Intelligence officers did not take part in discussions concerning social protests in Israel and civil revolt. In addition, the intelligence branch does not collect information about the citizens of Israel. The presentation of the officers as research assistants is incorrect,” said the Spokesperson’s Unit.