Israel's Deposed Missile Defense Chief Was Secretly Monitored for a Month

Defense establishment believes he stored classified info on his PC out of negligence, not malice. His termination is seen by some defense officials as disproportionate.

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David's Sling, also known as the 'Magic Wand' system, being test-fired, 2013.
David's Sling, also known as the 'Magic Wand' system, being test-fired, 2013.Credit: Defense Ministry

The Defense Ministry monitored the conduct of deposed director of Israel’s missile defense agency Yair Ramati for a month, without his knowledge.

Yair Ramati, the head of Homa, which oversees the development of the Iron Dome, David's Sling and Arrow missile interception projects, was dismissed after "a grave breach of information security was recently found," a statement issued by the Defense Ministry said on Sunday.

Haaretz has learned that the defense establishment believes Ramati kept classified information to his personal computer out of negligence, and no malicious intent is being attributed to his actions.

Ramati is considered a professional and “almost obsessive” data collector who follows every published detail in the world of missiles, in friendly countries and in those considered to be enemy states. It’s possible that he did not consider the documents he kept on his private computer to be as classified as security officials in the defense establishment believe they are. Nevertheless, a defense establishment source said that he was warned several times in the past about infringements in securing information. His deposition following a “grave breach" of securing information, in the words of the Defense Ministry’s statement, was considered by some defense officials as disproportionate.

The step taken against Ramati is considered unusual, in part because of his high ranking position. The Defense Ministry's decision to dismiss Ramati could be linked to Homa's counterparts in the United States. Ramati was working closely with the American Missile Defense Agency, and it is likely that Israel was required to update U.S. defense officials about his removal. Next month, the Israeli and the American armies are slated to hold a major training drill, Juniper Cobra, which focuses on missile defense and includes Israeli and American weapon systems. In the past, Israeli defense officials were fired partly due to American pressure.

The Defense Ministry’s announcement on Sunday said that Ramati’s transgression was grave, making it impossible for him to “continue at his post at the Defense Ministry.” A defense source said that security officials were concerned about an information leak or a cyberattack on Ramati’s personal computer.

The ministry did not respond to a direct question on this matter but its public conduct casts doubt on the possibility that Ramati was targeted by such an attack.

The defense source said that a study of the issue began during the tenure of the previous director of security of the defense establishment, Amir Kane, who ended his tenure at the end of November. The details of the investigation, which lasted two months, fell to the new director, Nir Ben-Moshe. The investigation ended with a decision to immediately remove Ramati from his post.

In the course of the investigation Ramati was busy as the chief of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, known in Hebrew as the Homa Administration. During his tenure, the David's Sling anti-missile system completed its trial period and the first interception in space by the Arrow 3 system took place. Ramati only found out about the investigation into his conduct in recent days.

For former defense establishment employees, the new affair proves once again the power and influence of the person responsible for security in the system. Ramati’s ouster, which went into effect immediately, impacts not only his career in the Defense Ministry, which began in 2012, but could also affect his future professional career. Ramati is considered an expert in missile engineering. He was considered by defense industry people to be a contents expert. He headed the Arrow project at the Israel Aircraft and Aerospace Industries, serving also as the deputy director of marketing there.

The defense ministry did not respond to questions relating to Ramati’s investigation, which would have given some indication as to the gravity of his actions. There was no indication of the circumstances that led to the investigation and whether a replacement has been named to head the administration that oversees the development of Israeli missile defense systems. A spokesman said that they would not address this issue beyond the announcement made on Sunday.