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Stalking the Lone Wolves

Eliezer Schulman

How Shin-Bet Head Nadav Argaman Broke the Terror Wave

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE The results of Argaman’s efforts speak for itself. In the past 12 months, security forces identified some 2,200 Palestinians in various stages of planning lone-wolf terror attacks, and arrested about 800 (Photos: Flash90)

A year ago at this time, it looked as if Israel was facing a protracted wave of lone-wolf terror attacks that included car-rammings and stabbings.

A year later, security forces have largely broken the wave, thanks mainly to the innovations of 56-year-old Nadav Argaman, the new head of the Shin Bet, or the Shabak.

Argaman accomplished the task by initiating extensive structural reforms among the various intelligence agencies of the Mossad, IDF, and internal security — merging departments, eliminating redundant positions, and ending the arbitrary territorial divisions among the various security forces. His most significant reform was to create one cyber division responsible for initiating, developing, and producing advanced technological tools for intelligence collection, counterterror operations, and blocking domestic subversion against the State of Israel and its interests.

The upgraded technologies and improved operational methods are capable of tracking potential lone-wolf terrorists before they can strike.

Since most perpetrators are youths with no record of prior security violations, even when there are obvious warning signals — such as an expression of solidarity for an attack on social media — it was difficult to determine which youth would turn into a terrorist.

But, using new tools devised by Argaman to analyze previous attacks, security forces discovered that many terrorists do leave clear tracks of their murderous intentions. The tools he devised rely on follow-up, looking for a pattern of communication or behavioral changes that might indicate the suspect is turning from a sympathizer into a potential terrorist.

Security authorities examine online behavior for signs of intent to commit terror

Tracking down these potential killers also requires the use of wiretaps to monitor communication among thousands of Palestinians. Although the Israeli courts give security forces wide leeway to conduct surveillance, some have objected to widespread intelligence gathering. In 2014, for instance, 43 IDF reservists signed a letter released to the media announcing their refusal to serve in the IDF’s top Intelligence Unit 8200 on the grounds it was invading the privacy of Palestinians. The IDF dismissed them from military service. The results of Argaman’s efforts speak for itself.

In the past 12 months, security forces identified some 2,200 Palestinians in various stages of planning lone-wolf terror attacks, and arrested about 800. In some cases, authorities only had to send warning letters to the parents of these youths warning of repercussions if their children carried out their intentions. The new techniques also seem to be preventing conventional terror attacks as well. Last year, security forces say they prevented 16 suicide attacks at bus stops and in cities in Israel, including Haifa and Jerusalem, and foiled a similar number of concrete plans to kidnap soldiers and civilians. Similar action is being taken in the fight against ISIS.

In 2016, some 29 ISIS sympathizers were arrested in Jerusalem, 11 of whom held Israeli residency cards. Last year, some 140 Israeli Arabs inside the Green Line were arrested for terrorist activity, with 36 linked to ISIS activities.

At the same time, Argaman has tightened coordination with intelligence services in the United States and several Western European countries, meeting with at least eight heads of intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the British MI6. In the last year, jihadists have succeeded in downing four passenger planes. In light of this growing threat, and because the EU-US Open Skies Agreement has led to a significant increase in air traffic to and from Israel, Argaman has placed special emphasis on civilian aviation security and is crafting a plan to establish a national security authority to oversee this.

While this type of global cooperation was not Argaman’s brainchild, he fast-tracked its implementation, establishing three new departments and replacing seven department heads who hold a rank parallel to that of general. In essence, he has built himself a new headquarters comprised of people he hired and who are answerable to him.

Argaman does have his critics. They say he has filled the ranks of his department with those who lack field experience in the Arab sector. But the innovator answers that managerial experience today is more important than field experience.

Even in the IDF, in recent years, the top post of Brigadier General in the Military Intelligence units tended to be filled by operational personnel, reflecting the growing use of various technologies to combat the spread of such threats as Iranian influence and global jihad from the relative safety of a high-tech office.

In the end, apart from the technological innovation, Argaman’s biggest contribution may be in the field of cooperation. He is the first Shabak leader to break down the remaining barriers between the Military Intelligence and the Mossad, which will lead to better results and better operations to thwart terror and conduct spy operations in distant arenas. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 660)

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