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Israel puts Gaza at the heart of its security focus

October 24, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Israeli forces fire tear gas at Palestinians during the ‘Great March of Return’ in Gaza on 15 February 2019 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

The Gaza Strip has witnessed an intensive campaign by the Ministry of the Interior and National Security, along with the security services of the resistance forces, to stop Israeli agents from spying on the Palestinians. Spying is deemed necessary to obtain the information needed by Israel to carry out assassinations and military operations. Spies within the population have been discovered working for Israeli intelligence.

According to the Palestinian security agencies, the Israelis use deception to collect information. They contact ordinary people on the pretext of speaking on behalf of civil society bodies and charities, for example or health centres, student aid workers, real estate offices and so on. This is how they obtain personal information about resistance fighters.

Israeli intelligence agents have also created dozens of fake social media accounts covering such things as sport, entertainment, communications, cooking, job advertisements and politics. Information is obtained as soon as people get involved in the online discussions.

It has become clear that the Israelis are seeking to obtain details which will reveal the military capabilities of the resistance, as well as other information about domestic issues in the Gaza Strip. The occupation authorities use what they glean to plan for how it is going to deal with the situation in the territory.

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However, dozens of Palestinians have approached the local security agencies and explained what the Israelis are doing. Journalists and businessmen are among them.

Security officials in Gaza have now indicated that they have been able to limit the ability of Israeli agents to operate effectively. The Palestinian authorities have also been able to strike at spy networks on the ground, causing the Israelis to lose human resources; Israel now has to resort to non-traditional methods to recruit agents.

The complicated security reality in Gaza means that there is a war of attrition between the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities. Given the extensive use of social media in this struggle, the Palestinians should avoid irregular online sites, and be very careful about giving personal information on regular sites such as Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Israel pass Facebook Bill which will authorise deleting content considered incitement - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel pass Facebook Bill which will authorise deleting content considered incitement – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Despite its enormous financial and technological capabilities, Israel has made security mistakes. The Palestinian resistance, meanwhile, has made progress in its intelligence gathering, despite its limited capabilities.

Israel generally uses two types of online intelligence gathering: the hacking of Palestinian politicians’ online accounts to gather personal details, including those of people around them; and character assassination of such figures by using social media to tarnish their reputation.

False news and other fabrications are directed by Israel at the Palestinian resistance cadres and members of the security services. Social networks are popular for this sort of activity.

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The campaign announced by the Ministry of the Interior in Gaza warned the public against falling into the hands of Israeli intelligence. It was welcomed by most people, although questions remained about the ability of the ministry and security agencies — both the government’s and the factions’ — to tackle this problem.

The feeling in the occupied Palestinian territories is that Israel’s readiness for any future aggression is based on the sensitive information collected by its security agencies which is then used to build what the army calls a “bank” of targets.

Moreover, it is no secret that the Israelis are constantly seeking to recruit agents to act as their eyes and ears in the Palestinian resistance groups. The use of informers is common.

Palestinians refer to the dangerous role played by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is part of the Israeli Ministry of Defence. It acts as the liaison between the occupation authorities and the Palestinian people; it also provides cover for spying operations as it has direct contact with different segments of Palestinian society. It is not above using blackmail to obtain information in exchange for travel and medical treatment permits and suchlike.

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The latest COGAT tool is a radio station set up ostensibly to provide solutions to the problems facing the Palestinians. Interaction with listeners via on-air phone calls seeks to establish a common narrative with Israel, away from the reality of the occupation.

The station also seeks to marginalise both the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is a successor to the Israeli-run Arabic language radio station in the 1970s and 1980s. The programmes then were listened to by thousands of Palestinians, who found out later that some of the presenters were Israeli intelligence officers who succeeded in recruiting a number of listeners as agents. The COGAT radio station is a continuation of this use of technology, alongside social media, and built entirely around a security agenda. Its efforts focus on capturing Palestinians and recruiting agents.

It is obvious, therefore, that Israel has placed the Gaza Strip at the heart of its security focus. The reason behind this has to be the preparation for the next military offensive against the Palestinians in the besieged territory.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.