“A Crash Course in Israeli Intelligence” – with Erez David Maisel
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Please consider leaving us a five-star review so other listeners can find us. Coming up next on "SpyCast".
Erez Maisel: The fact is that in many ways the Second World War and the cooperation, the engagement at the different levels for the British establishment, the British intelligence establishment, as you said, gave us our chops, gave hands-on experience, very, very important experience with British resources.
Andrew Hammond: "SpyCast" is excited to announce its first annual month-long deep dive on a single country. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel and the 50th anniversary of the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. It is a fitting subject then for the inaugural five-episode special. Week one provides a crash course in Israeli intelligence, Mossad, Shin Bet, Aman, and how these agencies came into being. It also looks at the period before the creation of the state, namely World War I and World War II. Week two features a former Israeli national security advisor talking about intelligence and policy at the top. Week three looks at the intelligence failure that was the Yom Kippur War, which threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Week four looks at the legendary Israeli intelligence-gathering special forces commander unit, Sayeret Matkal. In the final week, we finish off with a double bill that includes the former head of counterterrorism for the Israeli defense forces and a former head of intelligence for the Mossad. This week's guest is Erez Maisel. He was formerly a brigadier general in the IDF and head of its international cooperation unit. He researches military and intelligence history and is a research fellow at the Alma Research and Education Center. In this episode, Erez and I discuss the narrative arc of Israeli intelligence, the structure of Israeli intelligence, peace and war in the region, and intelligence among the Yishuv, that is, the Jewish communities who lived in Palestine before the establishment of the state in 1948. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Okay, well, thanks ever so much for joining me and I'm really excited because this is the first in a five-week special where we do a deep dive into Israeli intelligence, but because we're doing a deep dive, I feel like we also need breadth. So I'm hoping that you can help our listeners understand the narrative arc of Israeli intelligence, the roots of it, how it came into being, the evolution of it, and where we are now. So thanks ever so much for helping me out with this rather challenging task.
Erez Maisel: It's my pleasure and thanks for the invitation. I'm really glad to be here today, so thank you very much.
Andrew Hammond: Thank you. So I was just wondering, could you just start off by telling our listeners a little bit more about the foundations of Israeli intelligence? So we can go back way, way, way back, but I'm thinking in the period, the early part of the 20th century leading up to the declaration of independence in 1948. So what are some of the things that are going on pre-World War II that would feed into Israeli intelligence?
Erez Maisel: I'm going to go a little bit further back. Pre-World War II, I'll pick a year, 1909. In the intelligence world, 1909, whenever you check up on intelligence history, you'll see that's the date that the Secret Intelligence Service picked for their foundation, I think. It's even on their website. But when you look at what's happening in that pre-mandatory Palestine, we're talking about Palestine under the Ottoman Empire control up until 1917, so it's 1909, and Jewish immigration, the Zionist movement is now just over perhaps 30 years, and there are settlements all over Palestine. Not very many, but there are quite a few settlements, mainly in the north and the south up until around where Tel Aviv is today, a little bit further south. And they are in need of protection against criminal activity, mainly criminal, the Brigadage and Bedouin raids and things like that. And up until then, they basically paid protection to people to protect them from local tribes, mainly Bedouin tribes that have for years controlled the access. And in 1909, without getting into the Jewish history of immigration and where they're coming from, they are younger men, younger women, many of them coming from Imperial Russia, and they've suffered persecution, and they've come now to be basically pioneers. And one of their main tendencies is Jewish work, Jewish independence, the ability to protect yourself is one of those things. And one of the first organizations, not an economic one, not a capitalistic one, more like semi-revolutionary, but definitely underground, but it becomes very quickly an economic venture, is a group of men and one or two women that start, I would call it like a guard company. They call it Hashomer, which is the Watchmen. And then they get contracts to protect the Jewish settlements, and they dress up as Arab Bedouin because they want to merge. They learn to speak Arabic, and they basically protect these settlements through good neighborliness. They make contact with the people around them, and they understand the issues. They assist. The most important thing for them is not to create any harm, is not to hurt people, not to wound people, no violence, actually. And the biggest thing out there is about deterrence and being present. When you spoke about the ARK, it's the first time I'm going to mention an acronym, which they didn't use this acronym, but we look at it today. They were very effective for three reasons. First, they had very good access. They were always outside on the ground. They used to report to each other, and they were very credible. They were very good at their jobs. This is the very first time that we see a very early version of Jewish, I would call it human terrain intelligence, all over Palestine, mainly from the south to the north. And it's basically levered in good knowledge and presence to create security for the Jewish settlers. This is the first time in 1909. The next important date is, of course, the First World War. During the First World War, Palestine, the Middle East as a whole, is very important to the European empires, specifically, of course, the British Empire, but also the French Empire. And everybody knows about the agreements made, Sykes-Picot and such things. But at the Palestinian level, this is a battleground between Egypt, which is basically controlled by the British Empire, and the Suez Canal, which is very important, of course, and the north towards Turkey and the Dardanelles and Gallipoli and places like that. In between, you have this piece of very important land, has always been very important, which is called Palestine. And in Palestine, you have on the one hand, you have these Watchmen that by 1909, 1914, are basically in trouble economically, but they're still there. And the question now that the Jewish settlers are asking is, during this First World War, which then is the Great War, there's going to be a second one, of course, is who do we owe allegiance? Who should we help? Who should we support? And the Jews are all over the world, of course, and there is a big question. But the question is, do we support the current leadership in Palestine, which are the Ottomans, or should we look for an external sponsor, in this case, the British or the French? Of course, the Americans are slightly less relevant at this time. And some do join the Ottoman army. They are conscripted and some actually volunteer. But a small group in a settlement not far from Haifa, in a place called Zichron Yaakov, family, Aronson family, quite well off. We could call them landowners, agricultural people. They have quite a lot of property in that area. And the eldest son, Aron, is an agronomist. He's a leading worldwide leader in research into agriculture. He finds very important finds. And the Ottomans also know that they basically need him because there's a terrible locust plague during this time, so he can travel freely around the area. And he decides, he makes a decision, and he convinces his brothers and his sister, a woman, he has two sisters, Sara and Rifka, the older one is Sara, and he convinces them that they need to make contact with the British in Egypt and supply them with information because they think that this is the best way to help the British basically capture, if you want, free Palestine from Ottoman rule. And politically, diplomatically, he sees that if he can help them, they will be able to maybe gain something of that in the future. And he creates a secret organization, the first organized intelligence organization that we know of in modern day, in our era. It's called Nili, in Hebrew it's Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, which is basically about persistence and the fact that Israel will survive and Israel will succeed. And he makes contact with the British in Cairo, it takes some time. It's a very interesting story, we don't have time to talk about it, but many times they have to cross the Sinai Desert unsuccessfully, but eventually they're able to create a link, a maritime link, with a boat leaving from Alexandria, the harbor in Egypt, all the way to a harbor at Leit. It's not really a harbor, it's more like a place where a ship can wait. And a man named Nishansky swims out to them with the information and he comes back with money and sort of things like that. And this organization supplies the British with very important information, which they use, they incorporate in their reports. Why am I telling this story? Because it's the first time that the Jews basically since the biblical times, you could say since the Roman times, the late Roman times, that a military intelligence or diplomatic intelligence apparatus is put up in Palestine. It makes contact with a superpower, the British, and it assists them in basically capturing then-Palestine from the Ottomans. Initially they do help, some of the information assists the initial campaign in 1917. And then one of the sons even and some others escort, they act as scouts for Allenby, for General Allenby, the British commander capturing Palestine in 1918, actually assisting all the way to Damascus. So that's the first time. So 1914, 1915, '16 and '17 to '18 is the first time we see that.
Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, Erez, I just want to help our listeners catch up just with a few of the terms. So you mentioned Allenby there, and one of the major bridges between Israel and Jordan is the Allenby Bridge.
Erez Maisel: Yes, General Allenby was the commander, not the first commander, but the most successful commander of British military forces based in Egypt. He was successful in, not the first, but the success of the Second Battle of Beersheba, using deception, by the way. There's a very good story called the Haversack Deception, where they basically try and fool, and apparently quite successfully fool the Ottomans to look the other way. And he's able to capture Gaza, which is just west of Beersheba. And then he's able to penetrate all the way to Jerusalem. So he's basically able to deliver Jerusalem by Christmas to Lloyd George, to the prime minister, which is what he wanted. Allenby wanted some good news for 1918. So Christmas 1917 is Jerusalem we have. There's a very famous picture when he enters on foot into the old city, 1917, by Jaffa Gate, and he's flanked by many. And one of the people in that picture, of course, is T.E. Lawrence as well. So he's very important.
Andrew Hammond: And Haifa, which you mentioned, this is a city on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel.
Erez Maisel: So Haifa is the northern port of Israel. It's a natural bay. Up until then, the ports in northern Palestine had been Akro, for years, for hundreds of years, pre-Roman, of course, during Crusader times. Even Napoleon had a slight little escapade there. But Haifa had been developed. At this time, Haifa was still quite a small port. It wasn't a very big port. But subsequent to the British mandate from the late '20s, it's been highly developed. And from the late '30s, that was the central port for Palestine. And around it, both during the '30s and '40s, during the Second World War as well, but even before that the British invested highly in different infrastructure there. A lot of it, by the way, to deal with oil and gas because that was basically the outlet from the Persian Gulf, which is in the east, and the western outlet in the Mediterranean would have been Haifa. So Haifa was very important and also played a very big part during the Second World War.
Andrew Hammond: And the Sykes-Picot, which you refer to, this is a British and a French diplomat who give their names to a treaty that basically divides what is now Iraq, Syria, and this region here. And in the not-too-distant past, ISIS made a big deal of saying that they had symbolically taken away the Sykes-Picot line. But that's what Sykes-Picot is. Is that a correct way to frame it?
Erez Maisel: Correct. The idea was basically how would they divide up the Middle East, make sure that each empire would get their interests, and a line was drawn. A line was drawn basically north of Palestine all the way towards Kirkuk in Iraq. And that was the basis for the post-war drawing of boundaries between the different countries, which basically in 1920-odd, after Sanremo, that was the conference held in Sanremo, would say this is Palestine, this is Lebanon, this is Syria, this is Iraq, and subsequently also the Kingdom of Jordan, which was called Jordan of Palestine.
Andrew Hammond: And just before we move on, so you mentioned the Ottomans. So the Ottomans are there for 400 years controlling Palestine and much broader swathes of territory in Northern Africa and the Middle East. But it's the Ottomans that are there for 400 years. And in the grand scheme of things, the British are not there for that long, 1918 until 1948. So 30 years, but they are 30 pivotal years. And during this period as well, you mentioned lots of settlers coming from Russia or the Russian Empire. And we're talking about pogroms, we're talking about the Aliyah, the ascent of Jewish people back to Israel. And this could be a 10-part podcast, but Zionism, there's certain ways in which that feeds into and comes out of the growth of nationalism in Europe and so forth. But I just want to give our listeners some clarification on these terms so that we're not leaving anyone behind.
Erez Maisel: Sure, sure. Look, I think that when you look at the grand scheme of things, from approximately, let's say from 1918 to 1948, the 30 years of British rule in Palestine, which less than that was basically the mandate, because the mandate comes much later, it comes a few years later. But those 30 years are extremely important years for the Israeli intelligence community for many reasons, which, if you want, I'll get onto that. But the big thing is that coming out of the First World War, there are people in Palestine, Jewish people, that have already found themselves doing intelligence things. These people have been involved, have experience in clandestine work. They have communications using ships, using pigeons. That was the way the Nili network was basically found out. A pigeon picked the wrong place to land. And they also know about reports, they know about operational intelligence and scouting. So come 1918, when the British arrived, they also have very good contacts on the British side with General Allenby and others. And they feel that they are ready to, I would say, not negotiate, but definitely engage about moving ahead on creating some sort of Jewish state in Palestine. So that's the important thing about the First World War and that intelligence experience.
Andrew Hammond: We'll move on straight after this, but in the First World War, there's no State of Israel yet, but it's not quite as simple as the Jewish people choose one side, the Central Powers or the Allies. There's Jews that fight for Germany. There's Jews that fight for Britain. There's Jews that fight for the Ottoman Empire. There's Jews that are affiliated with the British, like the Aronsons and Nili. It's a complicated picture.
Erez Maisel: You're very right there. But the most important thing about the First World War experience is that there suddenly is intelligence capability, although it's nascent. It's very new. It's very small. It's very secret, but it has some success. And it's definitely a very good example of it can be done. And that's inspiration and that's capability. And that brings us on to the '30s.
Andrew Hammond: Let's go on to the '30s then. Let's discuss the '30s and the lead up to the Second World War and the early period of the Second World War. So help our listeners understand that in terms of the development and evolution of Israeli intelligence.
Erez Maisel: I would say that from 1909 to probably the early '80s of the 20th century, the biggest threat is survival. This fear that somebody, some Arab country or Arab formation would come and do something. And we have to protect ourselves from that. This changes in the '80s because of the peace agreements with Egypt and then with Jordan. So we'll get to that in a second. But when we talk about the '30s and the Second World War, this question of survival, of national survival, of personal survival is very, very important. I would say the Yom Kippur makes that a trauma even, this question of national survival, which we'll probably get to at the end of this. So in the '30s, the world is changing. Some would say it's like today. We have these massive political popular changes all over the place. And one of the biggest changes, of course, is in Europe with fascism. So you have it in Italy, you have it in Germany, you have it in other places as well. But these are the very important places for Jews because they were living there. As you mentioned, during the First World War, Jews fought on both sides, and they fought for Germany as well. With the rise of Hitler in the '30s, this changes. This changes dramatically. So not only does it create movement of Jews to different places, many coming to Palestine, many German Jews coming to Palestine, which they bring not only themselves but what they have, which is knowledge and capability and, of course, resources, which is very, very important for the Second World War and also for the War of Independence in 1948-49 and later into Israel because they bring all this immense knowledge and ability. But they bring something else as well, which is Europe in many ways because up until now a lot of the Palestinian, I would say, nomenclature are more Eastern, Eastern Jews from Russia and Poland and such like. And the '30s sees also a massive change in the Middle East because of the rise of nationalism not only in Europe but also, of course, it emerges all over. So you have places like in Iraq and you have like in Syria and Lebanon as well. And also you have nationalism, of course, in Egypt. And everybody is dealing with this issue. And the Jews in Palestine, it's then called the Yeshu, the settlement. And they are now dealing with this issue of, on the one hand, how do we make sure the Jews are protected in Palestine, in the mandatory Palestine because the British are not in control. On the other hand, how do we accept the immigrants, make sure they come and are protected and can look after themselves. And, of course, in this time the Arabs are not interested in allowing immigration, Jewish immigration to Palestine. This clash basically between the quest for security, for survival, leaving Europe and going to Palestine, on the one hand, and basically safeguarding the current Jewish settlement, the Yeshu, in Palestine is what basically influences the '30s up until the Second World War. To just go back one second is in 1920 the Jewish -- it's very complicated, but we'll call it the Labor Party. They decide and make a very important decision and they create the Haganah. And the Haganah is the initial underground military arm, if you want, militia, that basically is focused on protecting the settlements, much like the Shomer used to do, the Watchmen, but now it's a very national, the whole country. It's mainly volunteers, so they are trained. Some of them are actually working for the Palestinian police as policemen or gafirim. And some of them, of course, are volunteering, and now they're in uniform, of course. So most of them, of course, are civilian protection and they are getting very rudimentary paramilitary training. And in the '30s now they are dealing with what we would call the Second Arab Revolt or Rebellion, but this one now is in Palestine. And that starts in 1933 with attacks around Haifa. The British understand this and they decide to accept Jewish assistance because the Jews have, as I mentioned before, they have access. They're able to report and they have credibility. And with the assistance of the Jewish, I would say, grassroots intelligence capability because they live there, they're out there, they're able to basically crush this initial Arab terrorism of 1933. And that brings us to the Arab Revolt of 1936, which, of course, is influenced by fascism and other things, but nationalism as a rule because the Arabs want something that everybody else has, so they want it as well, including in Palestine. As a result of that, the Haganah prepares itself to protect not only the settlements themselves, but also something called going out of the stockade or going out of the boundary. It starts with Jewish commanders like Yitzhak Sadeh. This is a man that in the future would be a commander of an armored battalion or armored brigade in the War of Independence, but he's a leading light. He's a leader and a commander, and he will also be very, very important in establishing the Palma, which we'll get to in a second. But they're also assisted by the British military, and probably one of the more well-known figures is Captain Ord Wingate, who is sent to Palestine as an intelligence officer. He's artillery, but he's sent as an intelligence officer. And one of his jobs is to protect the oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa. And he understands that if he uses the Jewish settlements that are out there as bases, they not only have access, but they also have very good ground knowledge, human terrain, but also physical knowledge of the area, and he can recruit and train and they will prove to be very good counter-terrorist squads. And he starts something that is called the Special Night Squads, and he bases them in the area to protect the pipeline, but he also starts preemptive raids into the areas. So that's 1936 to 1938.
Andrew Hammond: And these Special Night Squads, there's people that go on to become quite famous in Israel that are part of them, people like Moshe Dayan and other future leaders?
Erez Maisel: Correct. Ord Wingate, we have an institute, a physical training institute, very close to Tel Aviv, not so far from the place called Netanya on the coast. That's where I did some of my physical training during my service. And Ord Wingate, he was a powerful person. And he basically trained --
Andrew Hammond: A big personality.
Erez Maisel: Personality would be a better word, yes.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, a big personality.
Erez Maisel: A very unique personality apparently. He was also a very, very smart tactician, a very unique tactician as well, and he was a big believer in what we would call today unconventional warfare. So he not only led, but he also taught. There are some very interesting, even today you can find his lessons in the archives, and he taught these men. It was a mixed group of British officers, British non-commissioned officers and Jewish non-commissioned officers and soldiers, British and Jewish. And he basically created these squads, these teams. They would do collection during the day, and they were also using, of course, human collection amongst the Arabs mainly. And they did a lot of routine collection, a lot of routine patrolling, and that then allowed them to do these preemptive and these preventive raids. A lot of deception, a lot of tactical deception, and, of course, movement at night. And one of the non-commissioned officers was Moshe Dayan, others as well who would go on to lead important parts of the Israeli military up until, I would say, the late '80s, and the idea of many of them as reserve officers, of course.
Andrew Hammond: Moshe Dayan, he becomes a famous general, especially in the 1967 war, and then he's the defense minister in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Erez Maisel: Correct, correct. So that allows me then to move on to the next important date, which is, of course, the Second World War.
Andrew Hammond: In this episode, we have heard about Ord Wingate. To help you digest the episode, here's a brief primer on who he was and why he mattered. Wingate was what Churchill would call a corkscrew thinker, or in the words of Churchill's personal physician, Wingate seems to me hardly sane. In medical jargon, a borderline case, close quotes. Let's just say he lived a very full and very colorful life. The fact that both the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, and the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, were godfathers to his son, suggests nothing less. He was a British military officer who was known for his unconventional and innovative approach to warfare in a variety of theatres. In Ethiopia, he was known as the founder and leader of Gideon Force, a small elite force who operated in East Africa against Italian occupation. In Burma, he was known as the leader of the Chindits, a special operations group that would conduct long-range penetrations behind Japanese lines, cut off from regular lines of supply and communication. In Israel, meanwhile, he was known for training Jewish self-defense forces and for being a staunch advocate of the Zionist cause. He is seen by many as the father of the IDF, a legacy that lasts to this day. He drilled into his men attack over defense. The concept was new to us, wrote Moshe Dayan, who had gone on to be a key figure in the Israeli defense forces before becoming Minister of Defense. In Israel, many streets, squares and public buildings are named after Wingate, who died in a plane crash in Burma during the latter stages of the Second World War. Just before we move on to the War of Independence, can you just tell our listeners a little bit more about, you mentioned Haganah, you mentioned Palamark, the special night squads. Just to help our listeners, just a couple of sentences on each one of them and then also maybe speak about the Stern Gang and Irgun.
Erez Maisel: So, as I said, 1920 in response to another violence, another attack in the 1920s and 1921, so Haganah is organized. It's paramilitary underground. It's basically, wherever there are Jewish settlements or Jewish people living, it's organized into, you could say cells, local cells. It's very interesting how they were organized, because at the national level there's like a command and it's run basically by the political leadership. It's very well organized and very well, I would say, managed. And at the tactical level, it's divided into different regions and each region into different, I would say, sub-regions and then the settlements themselves, the communities, which there's a commander and he trains the people and of course there's national training as well. As I mentioned, the special night squads, which Wingate basically organizes, but it's based on something that Haganah already had, which were like mobile units. And Haganah is also very, very instrumental in creating new settlements to basically not only define the borders of the future state of Israel, but also to protect, to create strategic or tactical depth. Intelligence is starting to organize itself at a more national level. Up until then it was very local, based on watchmen or people who work, but now it becomes much more important. They have basically organized, I would say, a national, a regional intelligence capability, which is called the Shai, which in Hebrew is Shiruti Diyat, which is basically translated into the information service. And this will be the basis for the Israeli defense intelligence, which will start basically in 1948. In parallel, due to, as you mentioned before, there are different opinions, you know, of what the Jewish state should be, in a very, very political and ideological, and people are very strong in their beliefs. And this leads to a split in Haganah. The first split is in 1931, which leads to some members leaving Haganah and starting something which is in English known as the Irgun, but in Hebrew it's the Etzel, which is the Irgun Tzva'il Umi, which is the national military organization. This will be led by different men, but the most famous one will be the future Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin. He will arrive in Palestine during the Second World War. They also have intelligence capability, not as organized, they are much smaller, they are much more clandestine. They are not as well organized and don't have the same signature or support amongst all the Jews, never mind the British mandate, which saw them as a terrorist organization. The second breakaway will be later with the Lechi, what is known as the Stern game, Abraham Stern, who would leave Etzel and start his own organization. He's even more, you could say right-wing in many ways, but he's also much more activistic, and he sees the British as his enemy, and there's even documentation of his, I would say, his engagement or potential engagement with fascist Italy, and even with Germany up until during the war, because he sees them as someone who may support them in ousting, in getting the British out of mandatory Palestine. He's basically hunted down and assassinated by British police during the beginning of the Second World War, and he's killed in Tel Aviv. So you have basically three paramilitary Jewish organizations organized. One is national, regional, Haganah, I would say most organized and widely accepted, supported not only by the Labor Party, but also by most of the Jews living in Palestine, and also, I would say, global diaspora. You have a slightly smaller group in the thousands, not tens of thousands like Haganah, but Etzel, and they have a smaller intelligence capability called Delek, which is fuel, which they start during the Second World War about 1944. Up until then, it's very haphazard, the intelligence capability. And then you have Delekhi, which is much smaller. It's a couple of hundred to a few thousand. Most of them are just very, very, very tacit supporters. And this brings us to the Second World War.
Andrew Hammond: And just briefly, how are they all different from Palmach? Just to underline it for our listeners.
Erez Maisel: Basically, these are the three main formations or organizations that are involved in Jewish defense and proactive defense, what you would call to the active defense or offensive operations, although they are very limited. The Haganah, the bigger one, then the Etzel, much, much smaller, and, of course, the Delekhi. The Palmach is basically initiated only in 1941, whereas the Haganah is starting in 1920. The Etzel in 1931, and the Delekhi very, very late. The date, if you want, is really late. We're talking about August 1940, which is basically during the war already, and so they are breakaway. They are the final breakaway. The Palmach only starts in 1941, and in many ways, the Palmach is established because of British support. So the Second World War, of course, breaks out in September. Very soon, the Middle East is involved. You have the Italian threat in North Africa. You have, after France falls, you have the Vichy French threat in Lebanon and in Syria, and Palestine is very important because, again, you have Haifa, the port of Haifa, important to the British. You have, of course, that very, very important petroleum line, which is in Haifa on the one hand and in the Gulf on the other hand, on the other side, in the east, in Iraq, and so Palestine is important. From 1940 all the way to 1943, I would say, these are the years that the focus threat, the access threat, is very, very major in North Africa and in Palestine. From 1940, we see Chaim Weizmann, who is basically the leader. Ben-Gurion is the managing director, if you want, or the leader of the Sohnut, but the actual leader, the world leader of the Zionist organization is Chaim Weizmann. He proposed it to the British very early on. He speaks to the head of SISC, not directly, indirectly, but he's very well-known because he's part of the British establishment in many ways. He has very good connections. As we said, access is important to be effective. And he proposes cooperation much like they had done before in the First World War but also during the Arab Revolt. One of the very important things on the intelligence side that he brings up is that he suggests basically leveraging Jewish access in the areas that have yet been captured or conquered by the Germans or the Italians and preparing for operations if that area should be captured by them. Meanwhile, SOE, they start to work in July 1940 based on a director by Churchill, and they establish an operation in Cairo headquarters, and they understand, because they have past connections during the '30s, they speak to the Haganah. They speak basically to David Acohen, and they speak to a very important man as well who will be very important with the establishment of the Mossad in the future, the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service, Reuven Shiloah. And they suggest to him that they have men that have been trained. They can use them for sabotage operations in the area in Greece, which is very, very important. And they train them in special operations, specifically maritime insertions and demolitions. So from 1940, we have this cooperation between the Haganah, the Special Operations Executive, and the activity, and they have already a base, an initial base in Tel Aviv, and they are training them there. With the advent of a potential Vichy French attack supported by the Germans from Lebanon, a decision is taken, driven by Churchill, that British forces are required to capture Lebanon. And the main attack force is Australian, actually. They prepare themselves in Palestine, and one of the very important things is reconnaissance, is scouting, because the Australians don't know the land. They don't know their maps. So one of the very important things is, you know, how do we reconnoiter the land, and how do we make sure the Australians get to the correct attack points? Teams go out with the Australian troops to basically lead the way for the main force which would come during the following day. They leave at night. One of the scouts is Moshe Dayan. He leaves Hanita with his team and they move to an area just north of the border, a couple of kilometers, and they advance and they see the bridge they need to protect and all that, the area, and a firefight breaks out and that's where he loses his eye and he's, of course, very famous because he has that eye patch. He loses his eye in that operation and he's actually recognized as a bit of casualty. And this is considered the second operation of the Palmach, and now I will explain why. The Palmach starts in 1941, as I mentioned, Operation Exporter, with this invasion of Lebanon. But before that, two, three months before, the first operation is a demolition operation, a maritime demolition. They leave Haifa Port and their job is to blow up a refinery in Tripoli and they leave in a very small police launch loaded with explosives and they disappear. They are 23 plus 1. In Hebrew, they are called the 23, the kaf ginel, but we know they are 24 because they had an SOE liaison officer with them. All hands are lost and to this day, nobody knows what happened to them. They were lost at sea, that would seem what happened. It seems like maybe the explosives or they basically were sunk. So this is considered the first operation of the Palmach, and the second one of the British is this one, Operation Exporter, which is very successful, although, as I mentioned, there are casualties. During 1942, Rommel, the threat in the south, basically in North Africa, leads the British to recreate or re-strengthen the Palmach initiative, and they create a very big training base just outside Haifa, which is where all the area is. This plan is to stay behind units based on the Palmach, much like they created in France or in other countries as well, using local people. They created a big training establishment, SOE, in Haifa, and the Palmach in '42 are trained to basically fight a potential German invasion of Palestine. That's 1942 to 1943.
Andrew Hammond: So basically, the period leading up to the creation of Israel, we basically have lots of people learning intelligence, unconventional warfare, learning how to cooperate with regular forces, learning how to strategize, gather information. They're getting their chops before the state gets declared.
Erez Maisel: That is perfectly correct. For many years, it was difficult for Israelis, many in the IDF, to say, you know, we owe the British something. But the fact is that in many ways, the Second World War and the cooperation, the engagement at the different levels with the British establishment, military establishment and intelligence establishment gave us our chops, gave hands-on experience, very, very important experience with British resources, especially operations, unconventional warfare, and intelligence warfare, from information warfare all the way through to, you know, actionable direct action. And as I mentioned, you know, it's the Haganah helping during the Palmach, it's the interrogations, it's special forces as well. I mean, we have men volunteering for the Special Air Service and the Special Base Squadron, and they're based in Palestine in 1943. And you have people serving over there who then afterwards, you know, join the IDF. And so you have planners, like an architect who's a very high-level member of the Haganah called Ratner, and he's even the Chief of Staff for some time of the Haganah, and he's doing planning, strategic planning for the British, who opened an office, you know, a school basically in Haifa as well. And so the war, the Second World War is an amazing period of, you know, hands-on activity, intelligence and military. And of course, the biggest thing, of course, during 1944 from July on, which is the Jewish Brigade itself, which is, you know, established by Churchill basically, by his director, which is able also to create not only a Jewish fighting force, but also it has an intelligence capacity as well, field intelligence. And these men, of course, would also contribute to the intelligence of the IDF in 1948 and late into the early '60s.
Andrew Hammond: And the Jewish Brigade is drawn from Jews from Palestine?
Erez Maisel: Most of them are from Palestine. They were based on platoons and then companies and then battalions, then regiment called the Bachs, and they were then put together. And some, of course, left, you know, British units around Middle East. They were organized in North Africa, and from North Africa in 1944, they moved to Italy, from Italy into Austria, and then eventually towards the end of the war, when the war was over, they were redeployed to the area in Holland, and that's where they were disbanded. So basically, there's a major portion out there of, when you look at, you know, what built the Israeli intelligence community, a lot of it is this cooperation with the British.
Andrew Hammond: So that's quite interesting. So there's intelligence skills, there's unconventional warfare skills, and then there's also the Jewish Brigade, which are part of the regular army. So the whole spectrum that you would need to fight a war of independence, some of that skill set is already there. It's difficult to imagine Israel winning in 1948 if those experiences weren't already there, would you agree?
Erez Maisel: As far as many Israelis fighting in 1948, especially like the Palmach, most of them did not join the British formation, they stayed in Palestine in this time, they did not go overseas to fight. Although some left the Palmach and joined British formations, but they would probably say that they were very important than the British experience. I would say it was a mix of what the British experience, professionalism of big armies, big formations of, you know, industrial warfare brought, with the Palmach esprit de guerre, as you want to say, you know, there's this culture of partisan, of unconventional, of being maverick a bit, you know, that's the Palmach mixture. And the mixture of the, on the one hand, the convention, the unconventional, was what gave us the military edge. I would say the two other issues also assisted us in '48. One was industrial base, which was brought up during the Second World War, because Palestine was the industrial base for the British effort in the Middle East. And also the organization that the Haganah brought, which was very, very important. They basically fielded all these units in 1948 until the IGIF was stood up in June '48.
Andrew Hammond: In this interlude, we will discuss how the Second World War and its aftermath reshaped the international system in the modern Middle East. To start with, the United Nations was formed in 1945 to try to prevent World War III. Secondly, the war meant that probably the most powerful country in Europe up to that point, Germany, was divided into zones of occupation by the British, Americans, French, and Soviets. Europe as a whole, meanwhile, was divided into East and West by the Iron Curtain. We also see the sometimes immediate and sometimes slow-burning end of the European empires around the world, especially in Asia and Africa. This is evidenced by the growth in the number of states in the UN, from 51 founding members to around 193 members today. In the Middle East, the British, French, and Italian empires were broken by the war, which would lead to independence, eventually at least, for Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In 1948, just as the Cold War was beginning, Israel declared its independence, which led to its newly independent Arab neighbors mobilizing against it, a turn of events that have still not been fully resolved to this day. With structural changes in the global economy, the rise of the automobile, the importance of mechanized warfare, air travel, for example, the importance of oil to the global system meant that the Middle East was much more important now strategically than it had ever been before. This was especially true for the two superpowers that arose from the ashes of the war, the US and the USSR. Tanks, planes, submarines, and aircraft carriers all need this precious commodity, which meant the region became a battleground for influence, with the Arab-Israeli conflict embedded within this struggle. The Cold War would, to some extent, put a straitjacket on major structural geopolitical shifts, the risk of World War III, and mutually assured destruction was just too great. When you look at it like this, it almost seems, how could it have been otherwise, but as we all know, it really, really could. So let's talk about 1948 then. So this is a pivotal moment. This is when Israel comes into existence. This is the creation of everything that follows afterwards. So tell us a little bit about that through the lens of intelligence and these structures and skill sets that are already in place.
Erez Maisel: Following the United Nations decision in November, basically civil war breaks out in Palestine. The British are still here. They are here until May of 1948, but they are basically disengaging, and they are more interested in making sure their forces are protected. So they'll focus on force protection. So they're pulling back all the time basically towards Haifa, which is their way out, the extraction point. That's the harbor. And at the same time, you have the Jewish communities, the ones on the borderlines. They are basically under threat from the Arabs, which they refuse to accept the partition plan. And very soon in the beginning of 1948, there's an influx also of something of Arab volunteers, which is called the Arab Liberation Force, led by many Arabs, but one of the more famous ones is a man called Ghawji in the north, and around Jerusalem, a man called Abdelkader Husseini. This is the time of community warfare. The Haganah are spread very, very thin. The biggest issue now is of convoy protection, and there are just not enough troops for that. Also, people are working. There isn't a state. The British are still here. You can't really go out with weapons and organize attacks because the British won't allow it. The biggest intelligence threat now is this question of terrorist attacks, protection of convoys, trying to see who in a village is going to attack you, which village is basically not interested in attacking you. And so it becomes this question of neighborhood intelligence, which the Haganah are quite good at because they've been doing this for many, many years. But the problem with neighborhood intelligence or human terrain intelligence like that is you actually have to do something about it. It's not enough to know what's going on. You have to actually do something. And the question, you could say there's this tension between we can talk to our neighbors, our Arab neighbors, and keep it quiet, to the younger men, the Palmach people, you could say, but not only. You say, no, I'm sorry, we can't rely on them. You can't talk them out of it if they're going to attack us because people are dying. I mean, the convoys are happening, and, of course, with that, you have the influx of the volunteers from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. This brings us to this pivotal point where the intelligence of the Haganah is not prepared for high-intensity conflict, for a war. They are more like a local intelligence or special operations. They are not prepared for what we call now intelligence preparation of the battlefield, and this is where the men basically that have served with British intelligence bring their expertise of creating a battle map, of creating collection, of true industrial warfare because they have the experience. And so you find more and more of these ex-British-serving Jewish men and some women, of course, filling these positions from 1948 all the way to the early '60s. One of the more well-known ones -- there are many -- but one of them is a man called Gihon. He served as a warrant officer, as a sergeant in the British brigade, as an intelligence non-commissioned officer. He's an archaeologist, and he will lead the Israeli Defense Intelligence's research branch from 1949-50 until the middle of the '50s. So he starts in Jerusalem, and you have others as well. So this is this train, this point, which is basically finalized by Ben-Gurion. The state, of course, you know, is in May, but he makes a decision in June, and he says, from now on, we have three different kinds of intelligence functions. We have military intelligence, we have the Shin Bet, which is the internal intelligence, or internal security, or Shabak, which is like the MI5, or the security service in Britain, or like the FBI in the States. And you have the external intelligence, which is then coordinated or basically organized by the foreign office, much like the secret intelligence service or the MI6 in Britain is. It's not like the CIA, and you have these three from June, basically, are split up in June 1948. One is military intelligence, or Israel defense intelligence, one is the Shin Bet, and one is external intelligence. And during the war, basically, shifts from the communities fighting each other, to fighting intervention from Arab volunteers, to state-on-state with the invasion of the Arab military states in May 1948.
Andrew Hammond: There's five armies that attack Israel, is that correct?
Erez Maisel: Yes, so you have, of course, Lebanon is a limited penetration, they don't do very much, they have a very limited military as well. The Syrians are actually quite successful, and they're able to take quite a bit of ground around what we call the panhandle of Israel, in northern Israel, and that area will actually, some of it will stay demilitarized until 1967. The Jordanian Arab Legion, which some of it is officed by British officers as well, they take Jerusalem and what is today called the West Bank. In many ways, some people say there was collusion with King Hussein, and our side, the Jewish side, because he basically did not go more than the partition borders themselves. The Iraqis as well supported, with their support, and the Egyptians, of course, the Egyptian army, and also the Muslim Brotherhood, which we heard a lot about during the Arab Spring, but they also were involved. So yes, you have five-plus armies invading at the same time, which would be the main threat that the IDI and the IDF would deal with up until the 1970s.
Andrew Hammond: Just briefly, we hear about Aman for Israeli military intelligence. What does Aman mean?
Erez Maisel: So in June 1948, they decide to, because of the standards of the state, they start what is then called military intelligence, or Aman really. That is basically in March 1949, they call it the intelligence department of the IDFGHQ, much like the British, where the intelligence is subordinate to the ops. In December 1953, Aman is established. Aman is the intelligence corps. It's a totally independent corps of the IDFGHQ, and Aman is Aghaf Amuddin, which is the intelligence corps. Their translation is the intelligence branch, but it's the intelligence corps, the intelligence formation, and that is what we know as the IDI, or Israel Defense Intelligence, but many people know it as Aman as well. And that has been since December 1953, where the intelligence is next to the operations, but not subordinate to them, which is quite unique to Israel. Not only, but it was definitely a step away from the British model that we'd used up until then. This brings us to the '50s again, where basically Israel has been successful in protecting itself, national survival is basically guaranteed against that invasion of the Arab armies. And the 50s, of course, is a time of Cold War, which is the next big change for Israel Defense Intelligence, for the Israeli intelligence community.
Andrew Hammond: And just very briefly, what does the Mossad mean?
Erez Maisel: The Mossad basically means the institute. The Mossad is an institute.
Andrew Hammond: The institute. Okay.
Erez Maisel: And it's basically, the name for the Mossad is the Central Institute for Intelligence and Security. That's what the Mossad is. But then the first word is the Mossad. That's the one that everybody knows. They don't hear the long, long word that they have there. And there is no acronym for Mossad. It's just Mossad. In Hebrew as well, by the way.
Andrew Hammond: Very briefly again, what's the difference between Shin Bet and Shabak? I know they're both used interchangeably.
Erez Maisel: The Shabak and the Shirut, it's the same, or Shirut or Shin Bet. For many years, it was Shin Bet. Shin Bet, the acronym of the Shabak, which is the General Security Service, is Shin Bet Kaf, which is Shin Bet Kaf. So when you say Shin Bet Kaf in English, it comes out Shabak. But when you say Shin Bet, it's just the first two letters of the acronym. But it's the General Security Service. If I was to say to somebody Shin Bet or Shabak, it's the same thing. And many people in Hebrew will probably know it as the Shirut, which is the service, much like the Mossad. They're trying to be the same there.
Andrew Hammond: So we get to the '50s. We've got the Cold War, which is playing a big role here. We've got 1956. I don't think we've got a lot of time to go into this. But 1956, just very briefly, we have the British and French and the Israelis basically react to the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser. The Soviet Union and the Americans get involved. The Americans basically get the British to stand down. I think just briefly, if you could tell us, is this a formative experience for Israeli intelligence or not particularly?
Erez Maisel: I think it was. I think it was important. It also says something about a sense of insecurity, that national survival piece I spoke about. Because Ben-Gurion did not want to do it alone against the Egyptians. It was just following a massive arms deal. The Soviet bloc had supplied Nasser with arms. Of course, the British and the French were not happy with Nasser at all, as you mentioned. Not only the Suez Canal, but North Africa as well, impinging on French interests. So there was collusion, as we say, and there was conspiracy. But at the professional side, there was intelligence cooperation between the three of them. Yes, in many ways, it was not so much an intelligence achievement, but the one of cooperation was led by the intelligence community, specifically the Israeli Defense Intelligence. I'd like to just mention that before that, the operation is known as Musketeer, the one in Suez. But just before that, in February of '56, Israeli intelligence had, I think it was the first time they put on the map, as they say, because they were able to access Soviet Russia or the Soviet Union. The Khrushchev speech, where he basically denounces Stalin for his crimes at the 20th meeting of the Soviet Communist Party. And the Mossad, actually the Shabak in Warsaw, are able to get their hands on the speech, on the transcript. It was a secret speech, of course, and they're able to get their hands on it because you know, a Jewish journalist in Moscow, a man named Victor Greivsky, is able to get this copy using his charms and access. And they are able to copy it, get it to Tel Aviv and give it to the CIA. And this is probably one of the first big coups of the Mossad/Shabak, which shows the CIA and the community itself that, you know, the Mossad have access into behind the Iron Curtain there. And that, of course, leads to an elaborated cooperation between those two communities up until today. So that brings us to '56, of course, where, you know, the US basically lean on the French, the British and the Israelis to pull back. And that ends basically badly military, but strategically it's considered quite successful for the Israeli community. During the '50s, the late '50s and all the way up until about '60, the big issue again is preparation for that war. The most important event happens in February 1960. It's called, the name is Rotem in Hebrew. It's the name of a plant really, but it's an early warning failure. What happens is that Nasser moves troops into the Sinai and the Israeli intelligence misses it completely. Yitzhak Rabin, the future prime minister, he's at a cocktail party in Tel Aviv and he meets his head of operations then at the general headquarters and he meets a diplomat who mentions it to him and he suddenly understands that we have missed something very, very important. He rushes back and he says, we've been caught with our pants down. But nothing happens. That operation ends. Nasser takes the troops, takes them out and all that. Some people, there are different reasons for why he did that, but that leads the Israeli intelligence community to understand that they have a big problem with early warning. And what has happened to them based on some error of condescension, a lot of human, they understand it's not enough. And this is where Sayeret Matkal started special operations or special insertions to create that ability of strategic early warning in the depth of the enemy countries, which would lead all the way up until the late '70s. And that also leads to the change at the top of the Israeli intelligence community, where sort of the younger men now take command, not the ones who would run intelligence during the pre-state and the early state, but the younger men who had served in the military and they start taking command. And this is also a time where a sort of shift in intelligence culture is from European, British and French to more American industrial management. And of course, a big, big emphasis of technology, specifically signals intelligence.
Andrew Hammond: So we've came through the war of independence. We've came through this formative experience, 1956, 1960, Sayeret Matkal. Then we get up into the 1960s proper. So we get the shift from the French and the British to the Americans. And then we got up to 1967, which is really fascinating. So the Six-Day War. Just tell our listeners briefly what that was and why it matters for the Israeli intelligence community.
Erez Maisel: So the big thing about the Six-Day War, of course, is that nobody wants war. In fact, just prior to the war, the head of intelligence of the Israel Defense Intelligence says, there will not be war because Nasser is bogged down in Yemen and other places. And he's not going to go to war. But he moves his troops into Sinai and he shuts down the maritime, the states of Tehran, which is Israel's way out from Eilat, that port in the south, to the east. And basically, there is coordination, there is dialogue with the Americans. And it's understood that Israel has a green light to preempt. And this, the preemption starts with a very, very precision strike called Moqed, which means focus. It's an aircraft air armada strike on the Egyptian Air Force, which basically takes them out in a matter of hours, and the Syrians and then the Jordanians and then the Iraqis. The Lebanese Air Force is not that important. They're also struck a bit, but they are not the issue. But this is the result of two things that happened in the '60s. First, the very big investment in SIGINT, in signals intelligence, which allows the Israeli Air Force and the Israeli Defense Intelligence to understand the routine of air operations in the countries and understand when the aircraft will be on the ground so they can be struck, that's early morning. That allows them to do that and to have a very good hands-on access to that. It also dovetails with the Sayeret Maktal operations that they have done to prepare the battlefield as well. And it also rests on very good high-access, long-term human insertions into these countries. So like the most famous one and also tragic is Eli Cohen, a long-term penetration agent into Syria who is caught and hung by the Syrians. He started operations in '62 and he's caught in '65, in January '65. And in Egypt, a well-known one is also spoken about a lot and publishes, a man named Wolfgang Lotz and his Hebrew name is Zeb Gourarieh. And he's a German Jew. Eli Cohen is an Egyptian Jew, but he's a German Jew, Wolfgang Lotz. And he's inserted from '60 to February '65 into the Cairo elite. And he's able to create information over there. And he's caught as well. He's caught a month after Eli Cohen, apparently by the same radio direction finding machines that the Soviets, Russians had supplied the Syrians, they supplied to the Egyptians and he's caught. But the mixture of technology and human access allows or enables the Israeli Air Force to strike precisely and surgically take out the Air Force of those two countries, specifically Egypt. And that's what enables the ground attack to be so successful and to end the war in six days. At the end of six days, the whole of Sinai up to the Suez Canal is in the hands of the IDF. The Golan Heights, the Syrian border is in the hands of the IDF. And all what today we call the West Bank, Judea and Samaria up to the Jordan River, the Jordanian with the Kingdom of Jordan is in the hands of the IDF. So Israel's like more than doubled in size in six days. Very successful. Of course, many people were killed. It was not casualty free, but the military success. And this is the height, you could say, of industrial intelligence as well, this mixture of human and technology and of course human capability.
Andrew Hammond: So you have this phenomenally successful Six-Day War, although as you say, it's not casualty free. And then we have the Yom Kippur War in 1973. We are doing a whole episode on this, so we don't need to go too into it. But as a pivotal moment, if you can just tell listeners what happened and why it matters for Israeli intelligence.
Erez Maisel: So coming out of the Six-Day War, Israeli intelligence, the community, but specifically Israeli Defense Intelligence are exhilarated. They've been very successful, although no one wants to mention the fact that before the war, they said there wouldn't be a war as far as they were concerned. Their appreciation was there would not be a war. But as far as intelligence preparation of battlefield and operational intelligence, it's highly successful. And at this time, basically, the head of military intelligence is replaced as well. You know, the man who was very successful, he leaves, he's replaced by a new commander, a new general who had also served, by the way, as the Israeli Defense Attaché in Washington. And he takes over. He had been in previously a head of collection for the Israeli Defense Intelligence, and he'd also been the attaché. And this feeling of that we've been very, very successful and we are very, very good at our job more than likely impacts what happens in '73. This feeling of, you know, we know what we're doing. We are confident and you can't tell us anything kind of thing. Also, this is like, you know, this is a national trauma in '73, and definitely an intelligence trauma up until when I was even serving, which was not so long ago. This feeling of that we are much better than everybody else, this feeling of supremacy. So on the one hand, you have fairly good or very good human intelligence, which I'll get to in a second, as you saw in '67, but it continues in '73, such like -- and this is all being published. So like a man called Ashraf Marwan, who is very, very close to the Egyptian prime minister, and he's giving early warning, the angel, you know, speak about that in your other podcast, but he's an Israeli high-level penetration agent. And this question, you know, who's he working for kind of thing, but, you know, he's definitely giving information and he gives the information about the attack, about the offensive plan. You have very good intelligence, second intelligence access as well, which again, you speak about on the Seyeret Maktal podcast and all that, but this is very important as well. And you also have, you know, you have very good like aerial photography as well, you know, with aircraft as much as they can fly, because the problem at the end of the early '70s after the Six-Day War is that the Egyptians had moved their sand batteries to the Suez Canal, which make it difficult, but they were still taking pictures. So you have that as well. And you had good tactical connection as well. So the picture itself, it's never clear, but it was a higher-resolution picture and you had good access, and you'll get to that in the podcast, for different reasons. At the end of the day, it was a national failure of decision at the national level, but definitely an intelligence misconception there. In Israel, the big thing about the '73 war has always being the intelligence failure. Undoubtedly, there was intelligence failure there, but it also was because the leadership in many ways believed too much of what they were told, or they chose to believe what they believe, which in the end of the day, there was good information out there. It was so difficult to just change. There were people that said, you know, it's not an exercise. This is not routine. This is very strange and all that, but it just could not break the silence around that, that this is not war, this is an exercise. And that leads us to the terrible events of October '73, where both the militaries, Syria and Egypt, surprise us. No Jordanian involvement during the war. He sets it out, King Hussein. In '67, he made a mistake. He said that as much, that he did get involved. I didn't mention it, but in '67, there's a very, very important pivotal moment in SIGINT, when Nasser and Hussein have this conversation that Israeli intelligence pick up, and they publish the conversation, and then basically they try and create a story that says that the American aircraft carriers are helping the Israelis, and they are the ones responsible for this, the success of the IDF, but Israeli intelligence and the government make a decision. They publish it in the fourth day of the war. It not only embarrasses Hussein, it terribly embarrasses Nasser, and subsequently in '70, he will pass away, and he will then be replaced by Sadat, and he will lead successfully, in their mind, the attack of 1973.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, we're going to come on to discuss that in a separate podcast, but I think just to sum it up, Israel was surprised on points. It looks almost existential. There's certain actions that push the Syrians and the Egyptians back, then it looks as if the Israelis are ready to destroy an Egyptian army, and the Soviets come in and say that they're not going to let that happen, and the Americans get the Israelis to not do that, and it becomes this whole international incident, as well as the localized picture. So we have this, and it's an intelligence trauma and failure that's still discussed to this day, and for this special series, it's going to be the 50th anniversary of that war. So we get to the end of that war, we have this resetting, and in that podcast, we speak about the institutional effects, the changes that are made as a result of this, and then let's just skip forward, because we don't have time to go into southern Lebanon and the two intifadas and so forth, but let's just walk up to the present day. So where are we now with Israeli intelligence? We've discussed where it came from, we've discussed the creation of the state, we've discussed several formative experiences, we get up to the present day. Where are we now? Tell us about the role of technology, tell us some of the major reforms or priority shifts and so forth. Just give us a diagnosis or annual physical test on where Israeli intelligence is at the moment.
Erez Maisel: I think you're very right in saying so. The big thing now is two pivotal changes, first of all in the landscape, in the strategic landscape. The first one of course is, you can't ignore what happens after all of this, but the demise of the Soviet Union changes a lot. We won't go into that, but it does change priorities, it also changes the position of Israel in many ways, and in the Middle East. And then of course you have this whole thing about the Gulf. But before that, August 1988 is very, very important because it ends the Iraq-Iran war. And at the end of the Iraq-Iran war, we did not mention of course, but in 1979 there's a revolution in Iran and the Shah is deposed and you have a whole new situation in Iran, which of course impacts not only the Gulf, but the Middle East as a whole. And at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in August 1988, Iran comes out of that, I'm not going to say stronger, but they don't have this war. They have a new generation of revolutionary-hardened, battle-hardened men and they have a vision. And so one of the biggest changes from Israel, 1909 even to the late '80s or '90s, is Iran. Because up until 1979, Iran is not really a threat to Israel. In fact, for many years, Israel and Iran are in sort of a semi-cooperation. And from 1979 that changes, but it changes dramatically in 1988. And that is probably the biggest thing that everybody's dealing with today, you know, how do you engage with Iran? And they have their vision, they have their interests, of course. And that is one of the biggest things we're dealing with today. The second thing is that the change also in what the people of the Middle East are dealing with. And we don't have time to talk about the Arab Spring, but the Arab Spring creates a new energy which brings down states all around us, from the Egyptians, Bashar al-Assad as well, of course, is still dealing with it. As we speak, he has issues in the south again, you know, in Daraa and Suwayda. So he's not finished with that. And that brought the Russians, Putin's Russia into Syria. And of course, the Iranians, of course, the biggest thing is not only in Lebanon with Lebanese Hezbollah, which suddenly now we are dealing with the Shiites. For many years, there was no issue from Lebanon, as we spoke about, you know, it's like the half army, not even half. They were not an issue. But Lebanon has become a major issue in the last couple of years because they are so supported by Iran, not only the vision and the resources, but the capabilities as well. And now we see with the Ukraine, the war in Ukraine, this issue of Iran and Russia, which, of course, impacts the priorities of the Israeli Defense Intelligence and Israeli Defense Forces as a whole and the whole community. So those two issues, the first issue is Iran impacting and the second one, what it does to even our close neighborhood like Lebanon, that's important. The second thing is that the Arab Spring also does something else. It brings down leaders. So for many years, Israeli intelligence was focused on understanding leaders. Now, dictatorship is, you know, professionally, it's really it's an access problem, because once you know what the dictator is going to do, it makes intelligence equation easier to solve. There are still difficulties out there, but once you can even speak to that man or access that man, normally a man, not a woman, unfortunately, it's easy. Today, the question of popular sentiment and popular self-organization is very, very important. And that's changed a lot as well. And with that, you have something else you see not only in Iran which is Shiite, but amongst the Sunni, this question of religion. This question of religion is very, very important, even when you talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which in the past was more nationalistic. I don't want to say it was without religion. It was always there. But now it's become very central to the discussion and the solution, if there is one. It's this question of, you know, of religious conflict or not conflict, specifically to the Palestinians, this question of Hamas, which now has changed a lot of the equation because it's not secular Fatah anymore or PLO. It's something else. So those two issues out there are connected to the changing in priorities.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, so it's really fascinating. So there's so much things that have changed. So the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that changes the strategic picture. We have the peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan. So it's not necessarily nation-state to nation-state in the sense of those two countries. But then we have the Iranian revolution, the funding for Hezbollah, so we move from the south and the east to the north has been one of the main places the security threats are going to come from. So there's a kind of changing of the picture in terms of Israel, what Israeli intelligence has to focus on. I think that's quite fascinating.
Erez Maisel: It's like in many ways, everything's been stretched because in the past, the focus was border plus. And now it's become very much the global picture. The global impact is enormous. But also the threats themselves, the local ones also somehow connect not only because of the virtual connections, but because of this question of ideology are connected all over. This brings us to this last quote that I always mention is that like in many ways, Israel's conflict or Israel's quest for survival or whatever you want to call it, and now I'm sort of paraphrasing Thomas Friedman, it's sort of like off-Broadway. What happens, yeah, it's like off-Broadway. And then you say it's off-Broadway, it will come to Broadway. It's a very nice story that he writes about in one of his articles. This is off-Broadway. It's not only Israel. We're like at the front, of course, we get it first maybe because we're sort of in the neck of the woods where all these things mix up. But this is probably, you know, it's sort of like a trailer of things to come, where you see this mixture of, you know, of conflicting ideologies, but also the way things stretch and are very, very important. And to that, you can, of course, add this question of technology.
Andrew Hammond: Really, really fascinating. And I could speak for hours. I wish we had more time, but this has been fantastic. Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast". Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.
Unidentified Speaker: You sit in front of an arms dealer, of an Iranian arms dealer with some clergy sitting in front of you and refusing to look you in the eye. He simply lowered his eyes to show his disdain for me, while his military personnel at the side did the bargaining on specific weapon systems that they wanted.
Andrew Hammond: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @intlspycast. If you go to our page at thecyberwire.com /podcast/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond, and my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincey, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Afua Inokwa, Ariel Samuel, Elliott Pelzman, Tré Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.