A coincidence brought together two stories in Haaretz last Wednesday. One reported on the sadistic abuse of two Palestinians by soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, while the other told of astonishing meddling abroad by Israeli intelligence companies.
Ostensibly the conduct of the battalion is more sickening. But actually the actions of veterans of the Mossad and the military’s signal intelligence unit, 8200, is much more disturbing.
The abusive soldiers will be punished to some extent; usually they come from the margins of society. But the veterans of Israel’s top secret cyber-agencies are the new elite, the heroes of our time, beautiful and promising, the proud future of innovation and high-tech. Who doesn’t want their son or daughter to serve in 8200? Who isn’t proud of the Mossad’s work?
But some of these good people do very bad things, no less infuriating than punching a blindfolded Palestinian in front of his son. At 8200 they don’t kill people or beat them up, but the damage the unit’s veterans do can be no less severe.
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The success stories are many. The name of the game is to start up a company, exit quickly and take the money. In T-shirts, sneakers and jeans they make money hand over fist. During their afternoon breaks they order sushi and play the video games “FIFA 17” and “Mortal Kombat.”
Most of them come from 8200. Beneath their impressive successes, there is rot. The veterans of the biggest and maybe the most prestigious unit in the army, the new pilots, know everything. Sometimes too much.
A long, disturbing article by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker tells about these companies, particularly Psy-Group, made up of Mossad and 8200 veterans. There’s no place in the world they’re not interfering – from Gabon to Romania, from the Netherlands to the U.S. elections.
There’s also nothing they won’t do; money covers everything. Project Butterfly, the war declared by Israeli cyber-mercenaries on U.S. campuses against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, was particularly disgusting. Psy-Group, with members of the old boys’ club – Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy head of the Mossad and a Yesh Atid Knesset candidate, and Yaakov Amidror, a general and a former national security adviser – spied on anti-Israel activists on U.S. campuses and collected dirt on them.
It’s like a war, the hero Ben-Barak told The New Yorker. The private Israeli firm works on U.S. campuses against political activists for $2.5 million a year. This money was contributed by Jews (who were promised they were “investing in Israel’s future”), some of whose children are students on those same campuses.
Imagine if a foreign company spied on right-wing students in Israel and spread slander about them. But Israel is allowed to do anything. Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a Mossad veteran, told The New Yorker that he was ashamed of these mercenaries.
These actions are being carried out by the best of our young people. According to The New Yorker, the Israeli companies control the global disinformation and manipulation market. They have a huge advantage. As Gadi Aviran, founder of the intelligence firm Terrogence, told the magazine: “There was this huge pipeline of talent coming out of the military every year,” and “All a company like mine had to do was stand at the gate and say, ‘You look interesting.’” It always starts with terror, real or imagined, and ends with greed.
First we have a “huge pipeline of talent” familiar with the alleyways of Jabalya and Jenin in the West Bank, well experienced in violence against the helpless. The training grounds of the Israeli arms industry, unmanned bombers and lethal joysticks have led to lots of prestige and money for the state.
Now, in the spirit of the times, we have the meddlers from the high-ups of the Mossad and 8200. And when one day somebody asks where the temerity came from to meddle like that, we’ll quote Amidror, who said: “If people are ready to finance it, it is O.K. with me.” Before we keep encouraging young people to join 8200 and take pride in the unit, we should remember that this rot also emerged from it.