TEL AVIV — The Israeli military aims to consolidate cyber-related investment, training and planning for defensive and offensive operations under a unified Cyber Command to be stood up within two years.
Once up and running by 2017, the new Cyber Command will integrate defensive capabilities now provided by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) C4I Branch with collection and offensive operations now performed by Unit 8200 and other communities associated with Military Intelligence.
Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, IDF chief of staff, decided June 15 to stand up the new Cyber Command, with responsibility for training, organizing and equipping forces to operate holistically in the newest cyber domain.
As such, he directed that a multibranch team of specialists from the C4I Division and Military Intelligence work over the next two years on honing a development plan for the new organization.
"The IDF is required to excel in every aspect of war, including the cyber dimension, which is becoming more significant every day," Eisenkot said.
He added, "This new command will empower the IDF to perform better in these fronts and will utilize the technological and human advantage that already exists in Israel."
The IDF has invested heavily in cyber in recent years, with spending shared across myriad service branches and departments.
Once up and operating, the new command is expected to consolidate the bulk of investment spending and receive additional priority funding in the IDF's new five-year funding plan, dubbed Plan Gideon, experts here say.
"We will be required to make very large investments in cyber," Maj. Gen. Nimrod Shefer, IDF chief of Plans, told a Herzliya Conference. audience on June 8.
He added, "It's a new world that is very quickly advancing. Israel was wise enough in recent years to invest heavily in cyber to become a cyber power. That's not to be taken for granted."
Gabi Siboni, a retired IDF colonel who now heads Cyber Security Studies at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, welcomed the IDF's decision to integrate the full spectrum of cyber operation.
"The connection between defensive and offensive cyber is extremely important, and the fact that until now they were viewed as separate domains was a kind of anomaly," Siboni told Defense News.
"That's why the decision is so significant. It means the IDF has decided to implement a synergistic approach to this critical new combat dimension," he added.
Siboni and other experts here noted that consolidation of traditionally distinct IDF fiefdoms is not a trivial matter.
"There is bound to be growing pains as various actors adjust to the new reality. But issues of roles and missions and of budget and resources will be clarified with time. When one organization is responsible for both defense and offense, it can better prioritize budgetary and operational planning in a more responsible way," he said.
"Instead of focusing on the challenges, it's better to adopt a future-oriented, holistic view of how much stronger and readier we'll be in two, three or five years from now against this growing threat," Siboni added.
Similarly, he said the new consolidated IDF Cyber Command would be in a better position to work with a planned Operative Cyber Defense Authority (OCDA) that is expected to bridge military and civilian sectors and report directly to the prime minister's office.
That organization, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2013, is not yet operational.
At the time, Netanyahu described OCDA's mandate as "defending the entire state of Israel on the cyber issue. That is, defending not only important facilities and security organizations, but how to defend Israeli citizens against these attacks."
"When there's one framework in the IDF reporting directly to the IDF chief of staff, it will be easier to coordinate with the civilian sector," Siboni said. "At the end of the day, it will give a better answer at the national level."
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.