Double Bill: “Former Head of Counter-terrorism Analysis, IDF” – with Shlomo Mofaz and “Former Head of Intelligence, Mossad” – with Zohar Palti
Erin Dietrick: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond's content partner. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. Please consider leaving us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts if you enjoy the show. Coming up next on "SpyCast".
Zohar Palti: They can't be the best over here in the Middle East right now, but we can deal with any threat in a radius of 2,000 kilometers without being, in a way, superpowering intelligence. We are not superpowering other issues, but intelligence, we have are really good, and this is, first of all, to protect our family, and secondly, surviving.
Erin Dietrick: This week on "SpyCast", we bring you a double bill of interviews, first featuring Shlomo Mofaz, then an interview with Zohar Palti, two incredibly knowledgeable and experienced individuals within Israeli intelligence. Shlomo Mofaz is the former head of counterterrorism analysis for the Israeli Defense Forces and currently serves as the director of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Among positions within the IDF and the Ministry of Defense, Zohar Palti formerly served as the head of intelligence for the Mossad. We couldn't think of two better people to finish out our five-week long special on Israeli intelligence with. As this series comes to a close, we encourage listeners to continue learning about the history and current events within the region and the immense role that intelligence continues to play within it. The original podcast on intelligence and espionage since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: Well, it's a pleasure to speak to you, Shlomo. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me. I just wanted to start off, can you tell our listeners how you got involved in the world of intelligence?
Shlomo Mofaz: Wow. First of all, thank you for having me with you today. It's my pleasure and my privilege to be here with you. I started like most of the Israelis by recruiting to the Israeli military service. As you know, or you don't know, or our listeners don't know, that in Israel, the service in the military service is mandatory. At the age of 18, everyone is going to be recruited. I started in the paratroopers for one year, and then I was injured during my training. And then I started my career in the intelligence. It was about more than 40 years ago. I started as a soldier, then an officer in combat units, then in special operations. Then I was involved in the intelligence of the Infantry Brigade in what we call today the First Lebanese War. It was in 1982 when Israel fought against the Palestinians in Lebanon who launched rockets against Israel. After that, I continued with different positions in headquarters, in the field, in what we call the Israeli most special unit, the intelligence officer, what we call Sayeret Matkal. Then I worked as an intelligence assistant to chief of staff in the late of the '80s, late General Dan Shomron. After that, I was head of operations and intelligence in the Air Force, and after that an intelligence officer of a division in the Northern Command, and continued in the headquarters until I became at the end of the '90s the head of counter-terrorism arena. So most of the positions were intelligence officer in different levels, in tactics, operational, and strategic one. After I finished my position as the head of counter-terrorism arena in the headquarters of the Israeli military intelligence, it was a strategic responsibility for intelligence in the high level for the chief of staff, for the government. In my disposition, Israel made withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, and I was at the headquarters who operated this operation. It was complicated. After that, I came to the United States to be the intelligence attache in Washington D.C. for three years, and I had the privilege in this position to visit the Spy Museum in its previous place in 2002. It was the first steps of the museum. We had a very nice visit there. I was in the States on September 11th. I was on my way to the Pentagon to a meeting, so 15 minutes before, we saw the first airplane or the second one in New York, and then we understood that we won't have a meeting this day. And I worked with the officials in the States about intelligence, about terrorism and counter-terrorism because it was something that you have never had before. After that, I returned to Israel in the position of the deputy head of the production division. The production division is responsible for all the analysis, research and analysis in the strategic level. I retired after that in 2004, and since then, I worked in startups and companies involving intelligence and counter-terrorism. I did some consulting to governments and to companies for about 15 or 16 years. And for last one and a half years, I'm the head of the ITIC, the center of intelligence for information and terrorism.
Andrew Hammond: Okay. Wow. There's a lot of things that I would like to discuss there. Just very briefly, can you tell our listeners that, am I right in saying that it's three years for males and two years for females that's mandatory in the IDF? Is that correct?
Shlomo Mofaz: Yes. Today, it has been changed. Today, for a man, it's two years and eight months, and for a woman, it's two years. Actually, I have now two children. My youngest one, I have twins that was born in the United States in my service there, so both of them are now in service. I also have two adults who had been already in service, so I have two now in the service, a boy and a girl.
Andrew Hammond: Just to help our listeners understand as well, Israel is relying on the reserve forces, on the people that have came through the IDF training, it's relying on them. If a war breaks out, it's unique, it's a little different from other countries. Is that correct?
Shlomo Mofaz: Yes. This is a unique platform or unique structure that actually started by the man who established the Israeli State, Ben-Gurion, in 1948. He has the vision how the IDF should be, and the name, also the name, Israeli Defense Forces. Because we're a small community in Israel, when Israel was established, we were here about 600,000 people, that's all. And in the first war, in the independence war, 1% of the population in Israel had been killed in this independent war. And he put the structure of the services mandatory and the reserves. This is the most powerful capability of Israel when there is a war, when there is a tension, something like that, we recruit them. But today, not everyone that retired or finished his service is going to the reserves, only part of the people, because a lot of other reasons.
Andrew Hammond: That's really interesting. And when you moved over to intelligence, was that something that you led? Did you think this is something I would like to do, or how does it work? Were you just told, you're going to intelligence, or was that a little of both?
Shlomo Mofaz: I think it was a luck and something that when you're injured, you can't be in combat units. So they send you in your unit, they see what your capabilities are, they think that I'm not a stupid guy, so go to the intelligence. But as a soldier, you do only very simple work. And after that, after one year, I went to an officer course, and then I got the training to be an intelligence officer. And for them, this is the career I have made for 25 years.
Andrew Hammond: What year did you begin and when did you leave the military?
Shlomo Mofaz: I started in 1978, and I retired in 2005.
Andrew Hammond: Okay, wow. And during those first 10 years or 12 years coming up to 1990, is there any operation that you were involved in or any experience that you had that you could share with our listeners to help them understand what it was like to be you? And of course, during this period, we have the Lebanon War, we have the First Intifada, there's a whole variety of things going on. So I'm just wondering if there's anything in those first 12 years that stands out for you.
Shlomo Mofaz: Unfortunately, we have always tension and activity. We are living in a very tough neighborhood in Israel. And most of the threats come from all kinds of terrorism. In the first years, when I was a young officer, it was activity in Lebanon before the first Lebanese War. So we did some ambushes and activities inside Lebanon. So you need to prepare all the information for the forces that are going to do the ambush or the activity or the raid or whatever has been taken decision to do. And then to bring them the air photography, the intelligence for other sources to translate them the information to actionable intelligence from time to time. You join them to the activity, cross the border with them and be in the field with the combat unit in the activity. The activities could be one day or two days or three or four days. Mainly at that time, it's a short activity to do some ambushes or other undercover activity to wait for the terrorists to come to the Israeli border and then try to stop them. This is what the first step. After that, I was in a unit of special operations at the headquarters of special operations. And in this division, I started the war in Lebanon. And after that, after two weeks, I became a head of AI intelligence officer of a brigade. During the war, part of the units land on the Lebanese shore with the forces. Some of them came to the ground, some to the air and special forces came from the sea. And I was part of this activity. It was a very impressive one. And then during the war, one of the main activities was the first time that Israel went to a capital of other country, to Beirut, Lebanon. So we went on the ground to Beirut. And what I remember then, it was the first time that in the level of brigade we used UAV. I'm speaking about 1982. It was something very new. And at the beginning, you didn't understand how to use it, but it was a miracle. So you have a UAV, not in the quality that you have today, but to have as a young captain some kind of information. It changed the view, how you bring information to the forces, how to translate the information, the intelligence to actionable intelligence. And I learned a lot from this operation, because until then, you got everything from people in other positions above you. At that time, you have straightforward, look what happened in the next street in a town that you don't know every single road there. So it was very challenging and I learned a lot from this activity.
Andrew Hammond: And just before we go on to discuss other parts of your career, there's probably some people out there that are going to be listening to this episode who want to forge a career as an intelligence officer or an intelligence soldier or operative. You've obviously done very well in your career. Is there one thing that you would say to people that want to develop a full career in this area? Is there one thing that you learned or one piece of wisdom that was given to you or something that you would care to share?
Shlomo Mofaz: Yeah, I believe that the key in every position, but mainly in the intelligence, is the quality of the people that you work. So two things about that. First of all, intelligence, it's not one piece. There is research, there's combat training, there's operational, there's positions in the field, positions in the headquarters. I believe that you have to have an experience in different ways of intelligence, not only be the one who gives the intelligence. You need to be also in the position to collect the information, to analyze the information and know how to digest the information or to the research, the understanding and how to provide. It's not only, you know, the intelligence. Intelligence is a tool. It's a service for decision makers. And this, sometimes people don't understand it. Intelligence doesn't work for intelligence. Intelligence works for, it helps decision makers to make the decision better. But at the end, the decision maker makes the decision. This is one thing that I learned. The second thing, as far as you go up in positions, know how to choose your people that work with you, because you can't do everything by yourself and you need to come to other people. When you're dealing with intelligence, mistakes are very problematic. Let's say an understatement that they don't do mistakes. People make mistakes. No, no way. Everyone makes mistakes. But you need to choose the best people that you can work with them and you can count on them that they bring the information or the service that you need in real time. In real time, it's also a thing that in intelligence, it's very important, mainly when you're dealing with terrorism, because the time is crucial. You can have information about the target, but you have a very small window of opportunity to make it actionable intelligence. For example, if you want to do a targeting killing, this is Israel very famous with targeting killing, you have to have a very accurate intelligence. But sometimes you have a window of opportunity when the target moves, for example, with the car and he's leaving an urban area to open area, only one second. And you need to bring all the intelligence capability, operational capability to this place to the one moment that it's in a clear place. You can hit him without collateral damage for the environment.
Andrew Hammond: You mentioned counterterrorism there. I know that this is such a part of the fabric of what the IDF do and what intelligence officers do. But at what point did you have your first counterterrorism focused job? I know that every job involved it to some extent. Did you ever have a job that was just, okay, this is all you're doing and you're doing counterterrorism?
Shlomo Mofaz: Yes, as you mentioned, in most of the positions from a young officer until a captain, I dealt with counterterrorism in different ways. But the first job, it was in the middle of the -- two jobs. First of all, the first job as an intelligence officer of division that was responsible to the border of Lebanon. So it's about 190 or 200 kilometers border. And you are the intelligence officer of a division. You have intelligence officer brigades of regiment and so on. And all your activity is, first of all, early warning and then targets and then understand who is the enemy or terrorist group on the other side to make a research about them to know their capabilities. This was in the operational level, my first position that I dealt only with terrorism, counterterrorism, actionable intelligence and counterterrorism in operational tactical level. After that, I was the head of a branch in the headquarters that was responsible for alert, research and analysis of terrorist groups in the northern part of Israel. It means Hezbollah that was in its first steps in Lebanon and other terror organizations in Lebanon in the level of the strategic and operational level for the headquarters, for the chief of staff and so on. So this is on one position and then other position. It was only counterterrorism to bring the information to take decisions about operations and to support operations against terrorism. But the first priority was always early warning, how to prevent them to do what they want to do.
Andrew Hammond: So for our listeners that haven't been involved in this, it's like a very stressful position. You're responsible for early warning 190-kilometer border. It sounds like, is it not one of those jobs where you wake up at two o'clock in the morning and you think here's a piece of the jigsaw puzzle I never thought about? Maybe this can have an effect and I have to go to the office or phone my boss or phone my subordinate or something. Just tell us about like living a life while doing this kind of job.
Shlomo Mofaz: Not always at two o'clock in the morning you're asleep, you know, sometimes you're still awake. But I give you one example, in the '90s when Hezbollah started the activity -- if you want, I can explain later on about Hezbollah. For the listeners, there was a period from the beginning of the '90s that Hezbollah built a deterrence balance between Israel and them. And every time they thought that we hit civilians in Lebanon from their point of view, they launched rockets to the town that was on the border called Kiryat Shmona in the town in the northern command and they need to go to the shelters if they have time. So one of the time we have a very sensitive information that Hezbollah is going to launch rockets on Kiryat Shmona. But it was a very sensitive information and the dilemma was either you go to the citizens and give them early warning, go to the shelters, and then you expose your source. It was a very sensitive source that if we lost this sensitive source, we have a problem next time. Or you don't tell the civilians go to the shelters, and then take a risk that someone will get hurt. And you need to sit with the head of the northern command, the general, and other people from the operational side and take a decision. What's your recommendation? And you need to remember that the head of the operational command, the general, he doesn't have a responsibility for the sources. He has a responsibility for the security. But he understands the meaning that if we lose this source, he won't have in the near future a very good alert about the activity. And he took a decision not telling the citizens, go to the shelters, when they start to launch. He took a risk, but we have source posts for other times for early warning. This is a dilemma as an intelligence officer in front of a decision maker, what to do in this. And the decision is of the decision maker, not of the intelligence officer. But you have to come to tell him, listen, this is the situation. This is our recommendation. But the decision is yours, and it's very difficult. Or sometimes during the night, you have some pieces of information. You're at home. Of course, you have a secure line or something like that. But you need to analyze the information and take a decision. Do I publish an alert or early warning? And it's not saying, okay, say early warning. Early warning has a lot of meaning. You need to send more forces to the arena and you need, if it's early warning, additional rockets. You need to send the citizens to the shelters. You need to head to the air force to be with airplanes in the sky. There is a lot of meaning to this responsibility to say this is an early warning. There is some stages that all the IDF need to do some steps after you say this is early warning. And if you're sitting in the headquarters, this is a very big responsibility. And to the chief of staff, sometimes to the prime minister, sometimes to the cabinet. Another responsibility is when you're attacking terrorist targets. And I was in a lot of cabinet meetings when Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, was in the first role as a prime minister in the end of the '90s. And every week, every month, we have some attacks in Lebanon against Hezbollah targets. And every time we need to come and say we have a cross information and this is a target. This is a target. It means that there is a standard. What is the target? When you say the target, it means common knowledge that you have cross information from different sources in the depth of time of three months or two months. It depends on the sources. And then it got the sign that this is a target. And it goes to the bank of targets. They have a bank of targets during an operation. Then you go to the cabinet, because every attack needs to be approved by the cabinet. And they ask you questions. Why is this a good target? Why is this a legitimate target? What will be the collateral damage? Is there any civilians that may be hit unfortunately, if you attack this and if you say yes, they did not approve it? So you need to come to the ministers, prime minister, minister of defense, chief of staff and others and tell them why this is a target and that you have checked all the other regulations to be a target. It's a very tough job. Sometimes it happens during the night. Sometimes it's early in the morning, because you don't control when the attack or the situation change.
Andrew Hammond: You mentioned Hezbollah there. I think it would be quite interesting to look at them as an example. So I know that you've written elsewhere that Hezbollah -- a lot of our listeners won't know that Hezbollah have their own intelligence unit and they have very stringent vetting investigations of people that want to join and so forth. It was very, very fascinating, some of the information that I came across. You're doing intelligence for Israel. Who are some of the people that you were facing off against? What does Hezbollah's intelligence look like? Is it informal? Is it formal? Is there structures? Is there processes? Is it decentralized? Just help our listeners understand Hezbollah. How would Hezbollah do intelligence?
Shlomo Mofaz: Before I speak about Hezbollah, how to do intelligence, let me in a few words to expand the audience, what is Hezbollah? What is this organization? Because today, I don't know if most of the people know, today Hezbollah is the strongest terrorist organization in the world. In the world. Hezbollah today has capabilities that a lot of countries around the world don't have it. For example, UAVs for attack, missiles 100,000, 250,000 missiles for the ranges of 40 kilometers until 300 or 400 kilometers. So there is a lot of countries that doesn't have this kind of capabilities and so on and so on. Hezbollah, you need to understand it was established by Iran, by Quds Force, this is the elite force of Iran, and they established Hezbollah at the beginning of the '80s. And then with the clashes against Israel, they became stronger and stronger. They started with a few hundred and today there is more than approximately 50,000 or 60,000 fighters of Hezbollah in less than 30 years.
Andrew Hammond: And just briefly, most of those fighters are Lebanese?
Shlomo Mofaz: Yes, most of them, 99% of the fighters are Lebanese living in Lebanon. Most of them are from the Shia section of Islam, because Lebanon, most of it is Shia today. Not in the past, it wasn't like that. And Iran also is the religious, is the Shia section of Islam. So in the beginning, as a terrorist group, a small terrorist group, when they recruited people, it was a process to do an investigation about who is this guy, what is his family, from where he came and all this stuff until they recruit them at the beginning. Because this was the hardcore of Hezbollah. The way they did it, they learned a lot from the Iranians. Iran has very strong security forces. And unfortunately, part of them was trained by Israeli security forces in the '70s when Israel has a good relationship with Iran under the Shah Pahlavi. There is a Pahlavi, the Shah, that was expelled from Iran after the revolution in Iran in 1979, February. And Ayatollah Khomeini came to the position of the leader of Iran. So they did the investigation and they learned a lot from Iran how to collect information and how to prevent from us to collect information. And one of the biggest problems we had during the period that we have in Lebanon, and this is part of my thesis that I wrote about the intelligence against Hezbollah from 1982 until 2000, in the time we fought on the ground in Lebanon, is what we call the human intelligence, the humans. Israel has a very, very big problem to recruit Hezbollah as agents or people who cooperate with Israel because of the processes they did, because it was a very tough religious organization, because people that were recruited also was believers in the Shia, fanatic ones, extremists. And this is one of the reasons we had a very big problem in intelligence during that period in Lebanon. And unfortunately, we lost a lot of soldiers there because we couldn't bring the best intelligence that the forces on the ground need to have.
Andrew Hammond: And Hezbollah are still funded by Iran, right?
Shlomo Mofaz: Hezbollah in the '80s and '90s, the estimation was that Hezbollah got $100 million a year at that time, and also ammunition and arms and training and so on. Today, the assessment is $1 billion a year given to Hezbollah. And also today the situation is different because Iran invests a lot of money in Lebanon, and today Hezbollah, let's say this is an organization that has a state. That's the situation today in Lebanon. Lebanon today is in a big crisis, political crisis, economical crisis, and nothing could be happening in Lebanon without the permission or the exception of Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.
Andrew Hammond: I think one of the things that some of our listeners may be asking is, and perhaps a little naively, I don't understand this. Why does Iran hate Israel so much? It doesn't share a land border with Israel. It's got its own internal problems and so forth. So where does all this come from?
Shlomo Mofaz: First of all, it came, again, from Iran. When Iran was -- after the revolution, with the view of Khomeini, he saw the enemy, the West is the enemy of the Islam, the United States, the big Satan, and Israel, the small Satan. The second one is, we need to expand the revolution, to export the revolution for other places. And the first place they decided was Lebanon, because they had some connection with the Shia community in Lebanon. Because Lebanon was, from the history, from the beginning of Lebanon, Lebanon always has some internal problems, because the structure, you have Christians, you have Sunni Muslims, you have Shia Muslims, and it was an unstable state. And Iran put a sign on Lebanon, this is the first country we export the revolution to, Iran. And they started with the Shia coalition in South Lebanon, and into the generation some more religious activity, and more investing money, for example, education, and so on. And then it became a strategic, and today Hezbollah -- not today, in the last 20 or 30 years, Hezbollah is a strategic arm of Iran in the Middle East.
Andrew Hammond: And I think, I remember when I was in graduate school, I had to study the politics and history of Lebanon, and I remember, it's fabulously complex. It's like reading Martin Heidegger in German, while you're drunk or something like that. There's just a lot going on there, and we're not going to get into it, but I think it's very --
Shlomo Mofaz: It's another podcast about Lebanon, and how corrupted the country is, and how until today, and this is one of the reasons they have a lot of problems and corruption, even today, when the economic situation is on the ground, and they don't have a president from last October, I think it's a different podcast to go in.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, exactly, exactly. For Israel and the neighborhood, let's just go around all of the different countries. So Egypt, we have the peace agreement and the border solidified in 1979. Jordan, we have a peace agreement and the border solidified in 1994. We've just spoke about Lebanon, so maybe we could just discuss Syria. What is going on with Syria?
Shlomo Mofaz: Okay. Syria now, to go back to 15 years ago, before the civil war in Syria. Syria has a civil war between 2011 until 2020, 2019, it depends who is looking. And today, Syria doesn't control all the area that's called Syria, only 60-65%. Part of it, it's under the control of ISIS in the eastern part. Part of it, it's under the control of groups that are against the government. And they have the involvement because they have the problems to fight against the people who are against them and against ISIS. We have now involvement of Russia Army, there's Russia Army, Russia Air Force and others in Syria who have Iranians military activity in Syria. So we have the involvement of Iran, involvement of Syria, and Iran also has some areas that they control inside Syria. And also they are militias, about 60,000-65,000 people in Syria, most of them Syrian citizens, but part of them from Afghanistan and other places. They are paid by Iran and controlled by Iran, but they're sitting in Syria. So this is a very complicated issue. And on the other hand, most of the support of arms and ammunition and all this stuff came in two ways. One way, from air to Damascus and other airports in Syria, and then they tried to transfer it to Lebanon. I'm talking about some very advanced capabilities. And on the ground, from Iran, through Iraq, through Syria, until Lebanon, this is the land, the ground line. And also you need to remember that also in Iraq, there is more than 200,000 militias, Shia militias. They are funded by Iran, under the control by Iran, but they are part of the Iraqi government. This is very complicated again. So according to foreign publications, Israel are attacking all these capabilities of Iran, Quds Force, this is the elite force of Iran, and Hezbollah in Syria to avoid them, to bring advanced capabilities to Lebanon. Not always. There is victories in this issue. Sometimes there is attacks on airports that the Europeans came with the arms, sometimes in stronghold areas and so on. So Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, has a lot of problems. The Syrian army is a very weak army. Although they have support from Iran and Russia, but they need to build again their force. They are not a big challenge for Israel, but on the other hand, they have anti-missiles, anti-aircraft missiles. They have Russia activity there, the Iran activity there, and Hezbollah activity. The Hezbollah today helps the Syrian army. Imagine what happened in the past, you couldn't think about this. But today, a terror organization supporting the state. So this is briefly about Syria. And I'll tell you a story. Bashar al-Assad started his position in July 2000, after his father, Hafez al-Assad, passed away. But he was not the first successor. The first one was his older brother that was killed in a car crash a few months before. So he was a dentist in London and his father called him to come and he was there. And Nasrallah, during the period of Hafez al-Assad, I think he met Hafez al-Assad once a year mainly, maybe once a year. He was very afraid of Hafez al-Assad. Actually until 2000, more power was by the hand of Syria on Lebanon. So they controlled what happened in Lebanon. Today, Nasrallah, in the last 10 or 15 years, Nasrallah taught Bashar al-Assad how to rule Syria. So a lot of changes have been made in Syria.
Andrew Hammond: So it sounds like most of the threats are coming from the northern border then, Syria and Lebanon. I think it would be really good to speak a little bit more about the Meir Amit Center. Could you just tell our listeners a little bit more about that?
Shlomo Mofaz: It's called, the full name is Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, ITIC. Meir Amit was a general. He was the only Israeli general that was the head of the Mossad and the head of the military intelligence in the '60s, the beginning of Israel. The ITIC was established about 20 years ago and it's an NGO non-profit organization. What we do, we do research by collecting open source intelligence, only open source intelligence regarding to analyze the terror threats against Israel. This is the mission. How we do it? We collect information from the original language, mainly Arabic, sometimes Farsi, but most of the information is for Arabic. First-hand information, it could be radio publication, it could be a TV, it could be social media, everything that is open and it's legal. We are not doing some operations. We are a civilian organization. We collect the information. And the other thing that is unique in what we are doing, we write the facts with the footnotes, what is the source. So today, you know, there is a lot of fake news. I'm not telling that all the information is true, but if I say this and that guy who made these terror attacks in Judea and Samaria, he belongs to the Hamas, I have evidence. I check his name. I check what the hospital in Judea and Samaria and Gaza Strip published, what is kind of the name. I go and do investigation about the name in Facebook, Twitter and other places, and then you can find that the guy has pictures with guns and rifles and wants to be what we call the suicide bomber or something like that. What kind of funeral he has, who takes responsibility for the funeral, is it the terrorist group Hamas or others? And then I have a conclusion, he was a terrorist. So we do all this investigation from open sources. And we publish a weekly report based on the information we collect on the activity, on the challenges in the Palestinian arena, in Hezbollah, in Syria, in Lebanon, Iran, and what you call the global jihad. We are covering global jihad, mainly ISIS, but also al-Qaeda from Afghanistan to Africa. So every week we publish this publication with what happened and the short conclusion. We are not doing like other research centers. We are not doing a recommendation. We are not dealing with policy. Pure information, data, and first-hand understanding the situation. All the publication is in Hebrew, and then they translate to English to 24 hours. All the publications are in our website. We have 100,000 visitors every month. Most of them, by the way, more than 90% from them are in the English version, not in the Hebrew version, and most of them from the United States, and then Europe, and so on. So we have researchers that know, we have people who collect the information in Arabic and translate it for us. We do not see what other people translate. We have our translators, researchers, and most of our researchers as well know Arabic or Farsi, and they have a lot of experience how to write reports. And this is what we do. We have more than 200 publications a year. We have weekly publication. We have ad hoc publication. Ad hoc publication, it means that something that happened, operation, or there is special information we have. So we publish, we do a deep research. And we have an infrastructure publication about what we call in-depth studies about an organization. For example, we wrote about the Houthis in Yemen or about Al-Shabaab in Africa.
Andrew Hammond: And do you have a staff that's doing this research, Shlomo?
Shlomo Mofaz: All the staff that we have, there are less than 20 people, including translators, including collectors, including people who write, researchers, the researchers, including all the technical issue of website. We put all the things in the website, storage, and all this stuff, but very professional and with a lot of experience. Even the translators, they translate from Hebrew to English, working with us for more than 10 years. So they know the phrases. They know if it's translation to English version for the United States or from British. So they know the nuance. But because we don't do two translations, we do only one, they know the right phrases to use regarding terrorist activity, terror organizations, intelligence, and also the sources to write the name of the Twitter, the name of the Facebook name, the name of the Telegram, how to write it from Arabic to English in the right way.
Andrew Hammond: And people can sign up for your newsletter if they go to your website, right?
Shlomo Mofaz: Exactly. People can go to our website and go to our mailing list. The only thing you need to do is put your email.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time. This has been a really great conversation. I've really enjoyed speaking to you.
Shlomo Mofaz: Thank you for having me. And in the future, we can do another postcard about other issues. And I enjoy very much to talk to you.
Andrew Hammond: I'm really pleased to speak to you today, Zohar. And I want to thank you for joining me, firstly. But I also wondered -- let's just start at the beginning. How did you get involved in the world of intelligence?
Zohar Palti: Well, frankly, it was by coincidence, in a way, because it was the first Lebanon war when I was drafted in 1982. And I went to the army force. I don't know, something wasn't right back then after a couple of months. And then they transferred me to the intel. And I started the career in the Northern Command. And all the IDF used to be in Lebanon back then. And very, very fast. After three months, they sent me to an officer post. And since then, 40 years in intelligence.
Andrew Hammond: Okay. And the intelligence corps, just for our listeners, this was set up in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Is that correct?
Zohar Palti: It was also before. But after the Yom Kippur War, they've done a big revision. I mean, a huge one, that they changed almost everything. And they gave a lot of authorities and independence. What's unique over here, probably we'll speak about later on, that the director of military intelligence is the only guy that has the ability to talk to the policymakers, to the political level exactly so his personal -- not personal -- meaning professional opinion. And he don't have to reflect the opinion of the IDF, of the chief of staff. This is one of the lessons of Yom Kippur. That he can open, let's say, parallel track with the decision makers in order to update them. He's the only general in the general headquarter that has a weekly or monthly meeting with the prime minister or the minister of defense. All the other generals have to do it through the chief of staff.
Andrew Hammond: Was there any kind of cultural differences that you saw between being in the infantry and being in the intelligence corps? Was it a different type of person in the intelligence corps? Was the culture different? Or was there some minor differences, but it was pretty similar?
Zohar Palti: Completely different. The IDF is like military style, chain of command and everything. In the intel, it's not that it's not part of the IDF, meaning from the military system. Of course it is, with all the ranks and everything. But you're almost breaking all the barriers between lieutenant and generals. Meaning the chain of command over here is much more flexible because you have to rely on the young officers, on the young sometimes privates even, because we're drafted in Israel, all our boys and our girls. And they're coming when they are 18 years old, they start going to an officer course and then they have to sign to be a professional career officer. And that gives us a room over here to rely on the young generation, all the time to freshen our own minds. So meaning if you are a major, for example, you're dealing like every day with people you drafted like yesterday, and they are challenging you. If you will be with the strict commands of the military change and things like that, you won't get the advantage of the young generation. That's the reason the intelligence is a bit more flexible than the other corps.
Andrew Hammond: That's interesting. So the intelligence component of the intelligence core, that almost has to have parity with the military component of the intelligence corps, because if it's just a strict hierarchy, then the intelligence part of this will not -- it won't be fulfilled properly because of the hierarchy.
Zohar Palti: In a way you can do it hierarchy, but I think that a lot of commanders understand immediately that they're losing over here a huge advantage. It's not by coincidence that one of the most close relationships in the field has been between the commander, the battalion commander, or the brigade commander, or the division commander with his intelligence officer. Usually, he will be more experienced. He will be more, by age, he will be a bit more older than the, let's say, combat commanders, and he is not standing on the same rubric as the commander, because the commander used to be commander of platoon and battalion, and the intelligence officer is bringing to the table something else. He's thinking how the decision makers are thinking if he's coming from the headquarter to anticipate and to evaluate what would be the next moves. He helped the commander in order to shape the battle zone, and to think, and creative thinking, and of course he's bringing all the -- we have one hell of, behind us, of the corps, but this is one of the biggest corps that we have in the IDF. And the commanders, the brilliant ones, immediately take advantage, and they're using the intelligence officer as a big asset in the chain of command.
Andrew Hammond: And I would like to go on to discuss your time in the Golani Brigade, and maybe there's an example of this that you can tell us, when you were working alongside a commander who was leading a combat arm, and you were there to provide intelligence, strategic guidance, and so forth. So just before we begin to unpack that, can you just tell our listeners that don't know much about Israel or the IDF, what is the Golani Brigade? This is quite a famous brigade, right?
Zohar Palti: It's the first brigade. There's a number of the Golani Brigades, but this is brigade number one. It's the infantry brigade. We have a couple of them. By the way, although I grew up in the Golani, all of them are superb, the infantry brigade. But over here, I'll be a local patriotic, and I will say that the Golani is the best. But what I took over there, this is something, back then I was a major, like early '30s or late 1920s. What I took is something priceless, because I spent another like three decades as a manager, be commander in some other organization as well. How to deal with people, how to love people, that people are the most important asset that we have. And you learn it in the infantry. Usually, it's after a long walk in the middle of the night with all the equipment on your back. And before dawn, when you see like 1,000 to 2,000 people are gathering because it's freezing, because it's like 33 degrees Fahrenheit or like minus Celsius, and how people are taking care about each other and how they care about the safetiness of each other and the commanders that are actually feeling responsible about their own people. This is something that when you're only in the intelligence force, it's not so tangible like you see it in infantry brigade. It's not to the professional, not to the intelligence, it's how to be a commander. In the infantry, when you serve in the infantry brigade, this is priceless. This is the biggest gift that they gave me later on to deal with my own people. Some hundreds or thousands of people pass later on under my command. I think I learned a lot from the Golani Brigade.
Andrew Hammond: The Golani Brigade, this is named after the Golan Heights, which is a geographical feature in northern Israel.
Zohar Palti: Yeah, always it used to be the northern brigade for us, although in the last 20-30 years in any severe or serious battle that we have, whether it's in the south, whether it's in the West Bank, whether it's in Gaza, Golani will always be the first to engage because they are really superb.
Andrew Hammond: So when you were with the Golani Brigade, you were still in the infantry at the time or you were --
Zohar Palti: No, no, no, I was sending from the intelligence course to be the intelligence officer of the Golani Brigade.
Andrew Hammond: That's what I thought.
Zohar Palti: So you have your own department over there with some officers, of course, all the officers at the battalions. Golani Brigade have several battalions. You have several battalion officers and they're all under you from professional point of view. You have to guidance them and of course, the special forces of the brigade, the observations, UAVs, everything, all the collections, everything is on them.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. And one thing that I wanted to ask was, was there any particular event or operation that you're able to talk about that you can use to illustrate for our listeners what it was like to be an intelligence officer with the Golani Brigade? Maybe something that happened or some operation?
Zohar Palti: This is not unique for Golani Brigade, because before I was in a different brigade and before that I was in the command in the headquarter. What's a really unique operation that you're doing, mainly back then, you know, it used to be the RAF used to stay in Lebanon for like 18 years, is the proximity between the intel, the fact that you're getting very sensitive intel, how to diverse it to something operational, meaning that, for example, you intercept some SIGINT or VISINT element, how to do the integration regarding the intelligence between the SIGINT and the VISINT and to translate it to the commander and to protect his troops. That you see bad guys in an ambush or something like that, that you intercept a conversation or something, that you know that there is an ambush that want to jeopardize your own troops. Your responsibility is to translate all the big data that you have behind from all the computer, all the smart people that are working, thousands of them in the intelligence, to one sentence. Stop. You don't know where they are right now. You just speak with them in the radio and say, we don't know exactly where you are, just freeze. If you are good enough and if the intelligence is accurate enough, you're saving life. For example, this is something that in the end, it seems to me that the ability to save lives and to protect your own people, this is something that you are taking with you for all the way. And this is the reason that we are standing in those systems, because you actually feel that you're making the difference.
Andrew Hammond: And one thing that I would like to ask was intelligence is obviously very important for every state and every military and every military commander. But it seems to me that because of Israel's security predicament, it plays an especially important role. This may seem like a stupid question, but I just wondered if you had any thoughts on that. Would you agree that in Israel intelligence has an importance that it just doesn't have for certain other countries just because it has a different security environment?
Zohar Palti: I don't know to judge other countries, but no doubt that in Israel, the intelligence, this is something that is one of the most important issues when you're coming to decision makers. Rules could be tactical and in a brigade, it could be on the level of the cabinet or the prime minister that they used to sit for so many years in those rooms. Why? First of all, it's because of our history. We are a young entity, 75, 76 years old. In a way, in the back of our mind, there is an existential threat to the Jewish people. And we can't miss over here. We already lost 6 million people in our history. Never again, as the slogan said. And we actually mean it. In a way, I would refer to that to other issues of the intelligence, how we dealt with the nuclear reactor in '81 or in 2007 in Syria or in Iraq. It's all connected. '73 that the intel really made a lot of mistakes that came to the point that we thought, many people thought that this is the falling of the three powers, meaning the State of Israel is about to fall over here because the intel didn't supply an early warning enough. And because if the intel is not strong, a lot of people are dying. You said it, you phrased it briefly before, meaning take suicide attacks in the second intifada. If you're not good enough, you are not preventing suicide attack. Dozens of people are dying. So a lot of the money, most of the money is going first and foremost to intelligence. Now, whether from an operational point of view, you would have, you need, of course, more aircraft to move infantry. We spoke about that. But they can't operate without an accurate intelligence. They can't be the best over here in the Middle East right now that we can deal with any threat in a radius of 2,000 kilometers without being, in a way, superpowering intelligence. We are not superpowering other issues with intelligence. We are really, really good. And this is, first of all, to protect our family. And secondly, the stability over here in the region. We have to be the best.
Andrew Hammond: It seems to me that because of the nature of the state of Israel, because it's not particularly wide at specific parts, in fact, it's very narrow at specific parts, it's not particularly big. There's not a lot of strategic depth in many cases. So it seems to me that the margin for error is much more constrained, which means that the intelligence has to be magnified. It has to be even more important because there's not a lot of margin for errors to take place. Would you agree with that?
Zohar Palti: So true. And I just referred to that exactly to your question before. We have a very narrow country. From the sea to the closest Palestinian city in the West Bank, is less than 40 kilometers. It's like nothing. If you take this area, it's something between, you're passing between DC, Virginia and Maryland, you just do the tour and this is it. When you have a guy that wants to do a suicide attack in the middle of Tel Aviv, when he's taking a car in this radius or this range that I just spoke about, a couple of dozens or less than 20 kilometers sometimes, you need to provide intel to the police or to the other security services. Sometimes less than 20 minutes from the fact that nobody knows nothing -- name, who is the bad guy, the vehicle that he's using, what kind of explosives that he have and where he is going. Intelligence organizations that have the ability to do it less than 20 minutes, probably there aren't. Sadly, I'm saying, I prefer to take all the energy, all the money and everything to invest in high tech like Israel, the civilian one. But because we have security challenges like that, we have to invest in those issues to be the best. That's why the intel over here is crucial.
Andrew Hammond: That leads on to my next question, Zohar. Is there a particular Israeli way of intelligence? You know, you hear of an American way of war or the Roman way of war. I'm imagining that there's a similar thing for intelligence, a British way of intelligence, an American way of intelligence. Is there an Israeli way of intelligence?
Zohar Palti: There is right now a colonel reserve that right now is already retired. His name is Colonel David Shapiro, just completing right now his PhD regarding the unique Israeli intel culture.
Andrew Hammond: Oh really? Wow.
Zohar Palti: And he is going to publish his doctorate regarding this issue. And he has made a fantastic piece of work regarding exactly this question. And he interviewed, I think, all of us, all the seniors in the last 20 or 30 years regarding this question. So the answer is definitely yes. First of all, we are very curious. And we are teaching our intelligence officers always to say his own opinion. We like the people that are thinking different and we encourage them challenges. The fact that I'm right now lieutenant colonel, colonel general, one star, two star, doesn't mean that I have more knowledge than you, that I'm smarter than you. I'm more experienced. I'm more senior, but I'm not smarter. And we want to hear the young generation always and we encourage them. This is very unique to us. The other issue is the moral courage to say, hey, guys, you're wrong. Sir, whatever you take a decision right now, I will do, I'll make it different and I will do the opposite. We love it. We don't see it as a chutzpah or something that is not polite or something like that. We see that if the people are serious, not just because they're just to say, and they're basing on facts and knowledge and things like that. This is unique for us. Controversial, critical, always welcome. We are giving intel to decision makers, meaning we are teaching our intelligence officer to say to the commander of the battalion, whether it's tactical operation, exactly how we have to act, not only the fact. And jumping to the cabinet level will tell them whether we are recommending to attack in Iran in 2009 or 2012 or whether we are not recommending to do it. We are not keeping whatever we think only to ourself. Now, because it's a free country for the time being, the chosen or the elected people that are sitting in the cabinet, they have two options, whether to listen to us or whether not. They have the right to make decision, but we are not going to make life easier on them and just to give them the facts. It's your decision. We always will say whatever we command not to leave the question only. It's from the operation level, tactical level. And as I said, this will take a little of force as well. This is very unique because we don't have the expression like in America, for example, this is a policymaker decision. This is a downtown decision. You are the intelligence officer. Say what you think. Say exactly. This is it.
Andrew Hammond: And I want to discuss another period from your time in the intelligence corps. So you're an intelligence officer in the Judea and Samaria division. So I just wondered if you could tell the listeners what that is and how that experience was different from being in the Golani Brigade.
Zohar Palti: Golani is only one brigade. Sierra is one that know how to, you know, how to deploy it in the north, in the south. But at the end of the day, it's one. When you are an intelligence officer of all the West Bank, like I used to be, it's from the south of Israel, from the areas near Beersheba, to the north, all the way and not far from Afola. This means that you are crossing the whole state of Israel. You have six brigades. You have from the north, lots of Palestinian cities with a lot of population. You have Genned. Then you have Napuls. Then you have Tulkar. Then you have Ramallah. Then you have Bethlehem. And then you have Kedwara. And it's a very complicated situation with a lot of civilians, population that have the rights to live peacefully. I'm speaking about a Palestinian, with a lot of bad guys that are trying to challenge their existence sometimes and of course our existence as Israelis. And you have to do the friendship between the bad guys and most of the population that wants to live peacefully, mix with the Jewish population, all the settlements that deserve also security and to live quietly. This is a hell of a challenge for professional officers that have codes and morals of officers and it's tough. But it's with a lot of responsibility, and you can make a difference over here by dealing with the bad guys and let the good guys and the people to live relatively quietly.
Andrew Hammond: The Judea and Samaria division. Tell me if I'm wrong. This is referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?
Zohar Palti: No, not Gaza, only the West Bank. Gaza division is a different division. It's in the south of Israel. And Gaza and the West Bank, as you know, the Palestinians split between themselves. Hamas is a terror organization controlling the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank there is the Palestinian Authority, the PA. They are not speaking, by the way, with the Hamas in Gaza. We're the only one that speak with them. And when I'm referring to Judea and Samaria, I'm referring again to the West Bank.
Andrew Hammond: When you were in the IDF, there's some very interesting things that happen during this period. So we have both of the Intifadas and 9/11. Can you just describe maybe the Intifadas, the experience of -- because they're at two different points in your life, in your career.
Zohar Palti: So you're so right. I was a young colonel. I just got my third, we call it nevermind. I was a full colonel now, it was June 1st. We had just finished the West Bank militia a week before. And the IDF, a couple of days ago, just left Lebanon completely after Prime Minister Barak decided to pull us out of Lebanon after 18 years. And everybody thought that we are going for a peaceful period. Because I came from the West Bank, I knew that we are not. And I'm taking the command on the terror arena. Terror arena is in the intelligence. This is the entity that is giving the intel in the general headquarter about everything that's regarding the city back then. Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria, all the Palestinians and the Iranians headquarter, terrorist organizations, Gaza, West Bank, and terrorist attack around the world. Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and affiliate, anything. And we have like two and a half months of relatively quiet time to build the strategy and the force. And on 29 September 2000, a member of the Knesset, Barak Rehman, decided to go to the Temple Mount. And then the Second Intifada emerged. The Second Intifada emerged back then, and a week later, Hezbollah is kidnapping the two soldiers in the north of Israel. And at the same day, the Iranian Hezbollah keep dipping in the Gulf, and the Reserve Tannenbaum on the same day. So in a week, we are right now all the IDF in the West Bank, because the Second Intifada started with a lot of suicide attacks. We have a mission in the north, and this is October 2000. In my period, later on, a year later, September 11, of course. Right in between in 2002, we have the suicide and attacks against our interest in Kenya and Mombasa, when Al-Qaeda tried to take down an Israeli aircraft and blow up what was like a hotel that lots of Israeli tourists used to be there. That's the three years you're basically standing in your room and in the C3, and you have to stop a lot of bad guys. That means that you had a defending shield operation in April 2002, when we had to take responsibility about the Palestinian's town, because we had like 39 suicide attacks, all of our cities in one month in April 2002. So the government just gave us these instructions. Enough is enough. Deal with it. And it was very, let's say, challenging three years with lots of operations. Everything relying, as I said before, on accurate intel, because the last thing that we need is to hurt civilians. And you have to be very much accurate about whatever you are doing over here. And this was the period between 2000 and 2003 that I used to be the commander of the terror in the IDF [inaudible 01:18:16].
Andrew Hammond: So it sounds like your time in the Judea and Samaria division, that was good preparation to become the head of counter-terrorism.
Zohar Palti: Yeah, no doubt, because till then, most of my career was in Lebanon. So I knew a lot of the Northern Arena and Hezbollah and things like that. I knew less the Palestinian arena. And the fact that I was in the West Bank division as an intelligence officer gave me good advantages and prepared me in a way. Nobody can be prepared for a period like that, because we lost hundreds of civilians inside Israel because of the suicide attacks. It was a terrible period back then. But no doubt that you need some experience in order to deal with it. And sadly, I used to have this experience.
Andrew Hammond: I know that you were deputy head of the Intel Corps research division. What does that involve? The research division in Israel means -- in America that would be like the analysis division. Is that correct?
Zohar Palti: In the title, yes. In the title, yes. In the responsibility, no. Because in the end of the day, this division, the analysis division of the IDF responsible to give to the government the assessment of what will be next year, how to prepare the country, whether it's supposed to be, let's say, for example, war on a large scale, something very similar today to, I don't know, what happened in Ukraine right now, or only counterterrorism operations, or whatever. They are responsible for everything. So all the national assessments start with the intel that they've given them. That's why it's not exactly like the analytical one. If the agency, for example, or the DNI, it's a bit different. They also are using a lot of operational capabilities because they have to operate a lot of the Intel operatives in a way.
Andrew Hammond: Your career takes this interesting shift where you go from the IDF over to the Mossad. Tell us a little bit more about that. So Meir Dagan, he comes along and asked you to move over to the Mossad to be their counterterrorism division chief. Did you know him previously? Was that also a culture shock? What was it like moving from the IDF over to the Mossad?
Zohar Palti: So, of course, I'll try to give you some color description over here. And the details are less important.
Andrew Hammond: Okay.
Zohar Palti: But like in every fairytale, in a way, it's a fairytale. Because, of course, I knew Meir Dagan since I was lieutenant. He was chief of operation of the IDF back then. One star general. And I was a young captain or lieutenant even, I think. And just because I said before, in the Israeli intelligence culture, there is not much gap or distance between the lieutenant or the young captain to the general one star. And during the nights, he needed to operate in Lebanon. So I was the one that had to supply him the intel. And he was staying in touch during all the positions that he took and I took during the years. Later on, I was the personal assistant of the deputy chief of staff, who was the major general responsible about operations. So he was in the same headquarter with me. And like always, one day, it was at night, 11 o'clock at night. And I'm getting a phone call. And it's him on the line. And the conversation is like that. I needed help. They want me to be promoted to become a general in the IDF. It was this issue. In this particular day, they decided that somebody else will be promoted and I'm not. So I was a bit sad that day. And as I said before, I knew Meir Dagan. And 11 o'clock at night, he calls me and he said, my son, probably you're sad because you didn't promote. They didn't give you the promotion this morning. But I need you in the Mossad. I need you to become a general in Mossad and to be the chief of the counterterrorism of the Mossad. I said, let's do it. So you have to speak with the chief of staff that you will release me, that you will agree. He said, I've had a conversation with the chief of staff. He loaned me from the IDF to the Mossad. And the rest is history.
Andrew Hammond: And what was that like in terms of the culture? How was Mossad different?
Zohar Palti: First of all, I knew the organization because in the Israeli intel community, you're working all the time together. So not all the time -- depends. When I was in the West Bank, for example, for two years, I used to work with the Shabak all the time because they are the ones that are responsible about the West Bank. But when you were dealing, for example, in 2002 or regarding September 11, this is something that you were working all the time. So the organization from the outside, I knew. The culture, I knew. The operation, in a way, I knew also. But no doubt, it's a completely different ballgame. First of all, I grew up in a military apparatus with all the general confinement and things like that. In the Mossad, nobody knows that you are a commander. You're wearing a suit, a little shirt, and this is it. All the leadership is whether you have it or not. It's not coming from the ranks only, coming from the uniforms that you see. Secondly, you're dealing only with civilians. You don't have any more young people like 18 and 21, like our boys and our girls and our daughters. The army, all the time they were in the Mossad. They have populations not much more older, because it's young, after first degree, after college or something like that. But no doubt that they are, in a way, not kids, but they are not very young. All the culture is different. Women, 52 percent in the military -- don't have military women commanders, women in operations. This is completely -- it's like apple and oranges. Intel is the same. VISING, SIGINT, and all the other ones, now, how you do it, it's each organization has its own DNA. But basically, the language of intel is very simple. All the culture around it, completely different. Other issue, Mossad is not working in Israel. And yet, the military is. You're working outside. As I said before, completely two different worlds.
Andrew Hammond: And I would imagine that when you're in the IDF, your sphere of thinking is that 2,000-mile radius that you spoke about, I guess. But when it's Mossad, I guess there must be a much broader geographic focus to all of it.
Zohar Palti: The sky is not the limit. And when you went to the Mossad, did you think to yourself, like, I appreciate it's different culture and so forth. But here's a couple of things from the IDF that would actually be good in Mossad and vice versa. When you went to Mossad, did you think to yourself, okay, the military is different, but here's a couple of things that the Mossad do that actually would be good for the military? Help us just understand how you thought about the organization of both of them. Some of it was creative, one, to bring ideas from the different organization, no doubt. But in some cases, I was so off, meaning some of my people in Mossad start to laugh. Man, it's not the IDF here. Here, we are not so big like the IDF. We don't have so many like the IDF. We are not working on it. So, I mean, I can give examples from both of the organizations. Sometimes you think like a military, like a senior officer, that it's not relevant to the Mossad. And sometimes, yes, the fact that you are bringing some big thoughts, big ideas, things like that, it's very helpful. And on the contrary, the Mossad is a brilliant organization. So the holy triangle, as we call it, between intel, technology and operation, it's so efficient and so easygoing and so integrated that you can do it in the military sometimes. And you can learn a lot from the Mossad how to do it. And because we are good friends, all of us, and you see, we are moving the stream of knowledge and the stream of ideas and challenging each other in cooperation, of course, give us huge advantages.
Andrew Hammond: For the IDF and the Mossad, is there already a lot of overlap and integration between them?
Zohar Palti: You know what they're saying about tribe? It's great to be part of a tribe, but I'm not sure it's always good to get married and to have children in the same tribe. It's always good that somebody from the outside is coming and just shaking the tribe a bit. And in our history, the commander of the military intelligence or the commander of the Mossad, the head of the Mossad, for example, the last three of the Mossad directors, they are from the Mossad. Dagan was brought up but promised to show on from the outside. I don't know to say who will be the next one. Military intelligence, rarely we have a career officer intelligence guy that is getting the commander of the corps. Usually, it's combat generals that the second star that they're getting is to be the commander of the military intelligence. A couple of them have become chief of staff, at least off the top of my head right now, four of them. The current chief of staff that we have right now used to be the director of military intelligence. The previous chief of staff, General Kulhavi, is the same, General Barak, and General Poghieno. I hope that I didn't miss somebody. And if yes, I'm sorry, I apologize. So you see that there is no strict path over here how to become the director, whether in the military intelligence or in the Mossad. And from time to time to change and not always to choose from the Mossad. Although I love the tribes, it's great to have the DNA of your organization or your division or whatever. It's great for the local patriotism. It's great how you go up people to say that they see that they have where to go and where to be one day. But from time to time, you need fresh ideas. In a way, they've done it with me a couple of times.
Andrew Hammond: And I guess I'm wondering if you received any pushback from the Mossad people when you moved over there as a career IDF officer. Not so much?
Zohar Palti: Not something that I can say that it was a trauma for me. And if yes, let's say that after two years or three years, they will finish the story. I stayed there for more like 15 years, and I've become also the director later on of the old directorate. So I've done a couple of head of divisions. So it seems to me that in the end, I was integrated okay, and the pushback was relatively -- probably I deserved the pushback if I got it. But it was also not something so dramatically that I said, I'm going back to the military or I'm going out. On the contrary.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, that's something you never hear about very often. Sometimes the pushback is warranted. Right? And tell us about some of the major events that happened during this period with the Mossad. So we have the Syrian civil war break out in 2011. We have the Arab Spring. We have Iran. Help our listeners understand a little bit more about how you lived through those particular events as someone in the Mossad.
Zohar Palti: So I'm getting there before 2011 and the counterterrorism chief for 17 years. That's a long period. And that was after the Second Lebanon War. We had some challenges over here around the world. And then I was the chief analyst of the Mossad. It's another division that we have. Then they decided to promote me to be the director. And immediately when I came, started the Arab Spring. Now the Arab Spring, some people don't remember it. I just finished a couple of days ago like a Zoom with the Hudson Institute regarding the Syrian. And a lot of people right now criticize whether the Israeli policy, the American policy are right regarding Syria or not. And it's great, again, to have a debate regarding this issue right now almost a decade after it. And you can judge whether we've done good or less good. But back then in the Arab Spring, you have to understand that what I see the first thing as director, one of the most important three things that we have in our national security, first and foremost, is a special relationship with Americans. We can speak about it later on. It's not relevant to the question. But the second issue is the peace with Egypt. And the third issue is the peace with Jordan. It was before the Arab reforms. And when you see a country of more than 100 million people, with huge capabilities, just falling apart to the Muslim Brotherhood, to the radical Islam, we had some concerns regarding the stability of Egypt. So in the first few months of the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, the only things that we looked at is this country, they are friends, used to work together, used to cooperate together. And as you know, the Mossad is the zone officer for all the relationships around the world. You don't know how to do it. Now we have two operations back then in Gaza, one in 2012 and one in 2014. Now in 2012, we are doing an operation in Gaza. And in Egypt, Morsi, he is the president, not any longer. How the Egyptians will react? You have so many questions. Because the Muslim Brotherhood are the affiliates and the good friends of Hamas in Gaza. How you deal with the Egyptians regarding this issue? How do you finish the war in Gaza by engaging the Egyptians back there? That was very, very -- we spoke about so many challenges before. This is a completely different one. This is not a military. This is a different kind of intelligence, strategic one, friendly one, which much more creative thinking how to solve problem. It's not without, how to just speak with people and to try to solve problem over here. And Syria collapsed almost completely to Daesh, 70% was under Daesh. And a lot of chemical weapons with the red line of President Obama, whether Americans will attack or not, whether it would be chemical, missiles with chemicals against the region or not, because he used to launch chemical weapon against his own people. Hundreds of thousands of refugees that are coming to Jordan. In Jordan, this is something that is really vital to the security of Israel. And we will do almost everything in order that Jordan will remain independent and stable and things like that. Back then, you see hundreds of thousands of refugees, a lot of them died that are trying to go to Jordan. How you deal with that as well? You have to always look and to have an eye on Lebanon, what Hezbollah would do. Hezbollah is sending a lot of people to Syria to help Bashar back then. At the same time, the American decided to open the back channels with the Iranians in Oman to cut the deal with them in 2012 and '13. The intermediate agreement and later on, the JCPOA that were signed in 2015. In the middle, Libya collapsed with all the mess that used to be there. Yemen collapsed completely. The Iranians started to take the Houthis. 2011, 2016, from a strategic point of view, and the Russians are coming to Syria in September 2015. But the Americans decided that this is a quagmire and they're off. Afghanistan, Iraq, dozens of American troops that are staying in Syria. Coordination between us and the Americans. Coordination between us and the Americans regarding Iraq. Lots of issues.
Andrew Hammond: And how did you deal with that just on a human level? I mean, you must have had so much on your mind, so many things to worry about. How did you deal with all of the pressure?
Zohar Palti: I was so tired, so I went to sleep. And when I'm sleeping, I'm sleeping good. Then you're waking up and continue to deal with all the pressure.
Andrew Hammond: Just one day at a time?
Zohar Palti: After so many years, you are so experienced how to deal with pressure and how to understand immediately what right now is immediate that you have to take care about. Sometimes it's not real. Some people aren't really concerned about something that you look about and say, relax, wait for tomorrow morning, wait, it will vanish. Let's iron the ball, as you say. Let's deal with the serious people or the serious challenge, the serious issue that we have. Not to jump in every five minutes because we have so many balls and so many challenges in the air. You need to be focused all the time. And it's good to have sometimes gray hair and a lot of experience in order to deal with that.
Andrew Hammond: And just help me get this right, Zohar. So you become the director of intelligence for the Mossad. Is that the right title I'm using? I'm just trying to help our listeners understand the difference between the director of intelligence and the director of the Mossad.
Zohar Palti: So the director of Mossad, as I said before, he's the man. He's the one taking all the decisions about everything. Whether to recruit a guy. Whether to do a technical operation. Whether to hold a negotiation with the cabinet, the government, the prime minister. He's the director of Mossad. In the Mossad, there is many sections. A big one, an important one is the director of intelligence, but this is only one part of the operation unit that are under the Mossad. This is not --
Andrew Hammond: Just as we move on to the end of the interview, Zohar, if you had any lessons that you could distill from your career in intelligence, what would they be? I know that that could be a whole separate podcast. But if there's anyone out there that's interested in this career, what lessons or piece of advice would you give them?
Zohar Palti: I think, first of all, is to remember from where you came, meaning your history, basically is our families, the values that we got at home. You don't have to think about it like every month or every day. But this is something that you bring with you to everything, every position that you are doing, meaning the values that you are bringing from home. To be very open minded and curious to learn all the time. If you are not reading between two hours to four hours a day, you're just not doing a good job. And to read about everything from economy, the oil, the price of the barrel of the oil right now and why OPEC is going up or down, or the chips right now that are missing in some of the electric cars. Because at the end of the day, it's often it will come to security. Everything today in 2020 or right now in 2023, everything is connected in a minute. Whatever is happening in Ukraine right now, everybody in the Philippines knows if something is happening in Australia or in Tel Aviv. Everything that is happening right now, I don't know, in a small town in the US, you know it in a minute. So you need a lot of ability, how to do the integration, what is important, what can reflect your range and your interest. And to rely on good people, to choose the best people and to give them a lot of responsibility and room to operate, and to believe.
Andrew Hammond: And can we expect a memoir from you at some point?
Zohar Palti: No way. No, no.
Andrew Hammond: Okay, I was going to invite you back on the show.
Zohar Palti: No. Nobody will believe any story that I will tell.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for speaking to us this morning. This has been a pleasure and yeah, thanks for your --
Zohar Palti: Thank you so much. You're doing a great job and we have a great respect for your museum and your entity. And it's so important that you're doing this kind of -- the young officers are listening to that and I hope that they are learning sometimes or learning not to learn from us based on some things that we're saying. And thank you so much for this initiative which approached me. Thank you.
Andrew Hammond: Of course. Thank you so much. Thanks, Zohar.
Erin Deitrick: 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, we will feature a panel discussion that we had recently here at the International Spy Museum on Robert Hansen. If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @intlspycast. If you go to our page, thecyberwire.com /podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed shout-outs and full transcripts. I'm Erin Dietrick and your host is Dr. Andrew Hammond. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Bincy, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Afua Anakwa, Ariel Stamuel, Elliott Peltzman, Trey Hester and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection on intelligence and espionage related artifacts, the International Spy Museum.