Israel needs a national influencing directorate

October 7 laid bare the dire need for a central organization to handle information warfare and perception campaigns

In 2012, having recognized a global evolving cyber threat to national and economic security, Israel’s government created what would become the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD). The Directorate has not only created impressive capabilities but also proved itself against global cyberattacks and fueled a thriving commercial ecosystem.

Until the INCD was established, Israel’s cyber defense efforts were fragmented, with various entities tackling the issue independently. This created inefficiencies and hindered a comprehensive response. And while private institutions excelled in some areas, no single organization could combine all knowledge and efforts under one roof. 

The INCD brought a much-needed centralized approach. It fostered collaboration between government offices, intelligence organizations, the military, and the private sector. The initiative gave Israel a significant advantage against the sheer volume of cyberattacks. Above all, the combined expertise allowed for a more unified strategy, adequate funding, quicker innovation, and faster response to cyber threats. These strengths are just what were lacking in Israel’s response to the post-October 7 global campaigns of delegitimization, disinformation and misinformation. 

Today’s information landscape thrives on narratives. Social media platforms, news outlets, government offices, and online forums are only several of the forces affecting public perception – at perhaps unprecedented scales. Anti-Israel narratives often exploit this environment, spreading misinformation and fostering animosity. 

Take for example pro-Palestinian delegitimization campaigns on American campuses. As The Wall Street Journal reported in a series of articles in early May, relationships between left-wing organizations, collaboration with influencers, mass social media campaigns, and funding from outside organizations and states have created a deeply rooted ecosystem of antisemitic activity and disinformation. 

Compartmentalized efforts from Israeli government agencies, companies, and NGOs can’t compete with this coordinated onslaught. While other countries have already erected robust influencing apparatuses, not to mention public diplomacy or development offices, Israel has been tactical at best in its approach. 

Though you can take a shallow breath of relief that Israel ostensibly tried to activate government-funded and private influencing operations, at this point, efforts have proven futile. Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry for Diaspora Affairs have resoundingly failed, as have its intelligence and military apparatuses. But, as a result of this failure, the army and other government agencies have recognized the need for a coordinated agency and have demanded additional funding. 

Israel has paid a steep price for delaying such an initiative. A National Influencing Directorate (NID) would have offered a centralized solution. By consolidating expertise and resources, the NID could have developed a comprehensive influencing strategy as part of its military and outreach efforts. Much as the Cyber Directorate proactively strengthened cyber defenses, the Influencing Directorate could have identified emerging trends and narratives online, fostering resilience against disinformation campaigns.

The first step would be for the government to put together a commission to draw up legislation mandating the NID’s scope, structure, and budget. An Israeli NID would combine the same collaborative spirit as that of the INCD, bringing together experts from government and non-government agencies, including intelligence units, academia, public diplomacy, psychology, advertising, communications, and technology. Responsibilities would be defined and operational transparency assured. Robust oversight mechanisms would be crucial to maintaining public trust and preventing potential misuse. 

The creation of a National Influencing Directorate represents a vital step for Israel. By proactively shaping online narratives and countering negative portrayals, the NID can bolster Israel’s global image and secure its position on the international stage. The time for a unified approach is now; by learning from the INCD’s success, Israel can establish a dynamic and effective NID, ensuring its voice is heard in the ever-growing world of hybrid warfare. 

In short, legislation calling for the establishment of an NID should be brought to the floor of the Knesset today – it would likely pass and feasibly replicate the INCD’s success within two to three years.

About the Author
A former intelligence officer in Israel’s Security Agency, today Asaf is a leading figure in cyber influencing and perception campaigns, consulting and lecturing to global clients and officials. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and master’s degree from Reichman University. He lives with his family in Israel.