Netanyahu says no place more ready than Israel to deal with election hacking

PM vows ‘we’re prepared for any scenario’ following Shin Bet head’s warning that foreign state is seeking to interfere in upcoming elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem to welcome Immigration Minister Yoav Galant to the Likud party, on January 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel leads the world in cyber-defense, following a report that an unnamed nation planned to meddle in its upcoming general election.

“Israel is prepared to thwart a cyber intervention, we’re prepared for any scenario and there’s no country more prepared than we are,” he told reporters.

On Tuesday, Hadashot television news reported that the head of the Shin Bet security agency said Israel was bracing for a state-driven cyber intervention in the April 9 poll.

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“A foreign state is planning on intervening in the upcoming elections in Israel, and it will intervene,” Nadav Argaman was quoted as telling participants at an event.

“I don’t know at this stage in favor of who or against who,” he reportedly said in Hebrew.

Though Argaman’s statements were made during an event hosted by Friends of Tel Aviv University, Israel’s military censor barred from publication much of what he said.

The Shin Bet later issued a statement saying that Israel “has the tools to locate, monitor and thwart attempts of foreign influence, if there should be any.”

“The Israeli security establishment can enable holding democratic and free elections in Israel,” it said in a statement late Tuesday.

Following the TV report, Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin submitted a request to urgently convene the Knesset’s cyber subcommittee.

“Foreign interference in election campaigning could critically harm the public’s trust in the government, Israeli democracy and in particular the results of the election campaign, as the results must reflect the will of the voter,” she wrote in a letter to Likud MKs Avi Dichter and Anat Berko, who respectively head the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Subcommittee for Cyber Defense.

Russia denied social media speculation it was the state planning to disrupt the Israeli vote.

“Russia has never interfered in elections in any country and has no plans to do it in the future,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments relayed by the Russian embassy in Israel.

The issue of foreign meddling in elections attracted attention following the 2016 US presidential campaign, during which, the American intelligence community has said, Russia interfered on behalf of Donald Trump.

Russia has also been accused of seeking to influence various elections around Europe through disinformation campaigns.

Ahead of municipal elections in October, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said thousands of fake Facebook profile accounts created to spread false information about Israeli political candidates had been taken offline at the agency’s request, in the possible beginnings of a major attempt to influence Israeli voters.

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