- Rebekah Mercer
The Importance of the U.S.-Israel Cyber Security Relationship in the 21st Century
Since Israel officially became a nation in 1948, the United States has benefited from the Jewish state’s knowledge of regional actors in the Middle East, its leading contribution to critical security systems and technologies.
From its inception, Israel has been at the forefront of managing diverse security threats facing the United States. In particular, Israel has led the charge in the advancement of vital cyber security technology systems. Israel’s world-renowned expertise in the field of cyber security is critical in order for the United States to be best equipped to defend itself.
The strategic US-Israel alliance is vital for both nations. While Israel receives financial and military support from the United States, the United States has a true friend in a region which continuously poses extensive threats to our national security. This alliance has always been shaped by security imperatives, and in the 21st century, many of these imperatives take place in the digital realm.
21st Century- Cyber Security’s Prominence
Israel’s position in the Middle East gives it first-hand knowledge of terrorism. This in conjunction with information sharing between both nations concerning issues of national security and Israel’s expertise in cyber security gives the United States the advantage to better combat the war on terror through more creative and complex means.
One most recent example of cyber cooperation between the United States and Israel is in the 2010 case of Stuxnet, a malware that from 2007-2010 successfully interfered with Iran’s nuclear program. This highly complex digital computer worm targeted Iran’s computer system that controlled the centrifuges and valves of the nuclear project. The consequence of Stuxnet was severe damage to the physical infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear program, thus slowing down Iran’s development of its uranium bomb.
The U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the case of Stuxnet demonstrates the large scale effects that cyber intelligence cooperation can have in combating threats to national security.
Executive Deals and Legislative Initiatives
Recognizing Israel’s innovative cyber defense strategies, U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have each made strides towards cyber collaboration with Israel.
For example, it is believed that the plans behind Stuxnet began under the Bush Administration and were enforced under President Obama. Beyond this, President Obama and Trump have each proactively acted to take advantage of this vital collaboration for U.S. national security.
Under the Obama Administration, the heads of the Israel National Cyber Bureau (INCB) and the National Cyber Security Authority signed a joint declaration on cooperative cyber defense with the U.S. Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security on June 21, 2016. This declaration, in the pursuit of having both nations share “operative information” dealing with cyber defense in real time, required a creation of networks between Israel’s National Cyber Security Authority and its U.S. equivalent in the DHS.
Further, soon following President Trump’s visit to Israel, his administration announced its intentions to work more with the Jewish State in the area of cyber security. The U.S. will continue to provide security through supporting rocket defense systems such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling while working with Israel to thwart cyber-attacks.
Thomas Bossert who is the assistant to the President on issues of homeland security and counterterrorism stated "The agility Israel has in developing solutions will innovate cyber defenses that we can test here and bring back to America. Perfect security may not be achievable but we have within our reach a safer and more secure internet."
The importance of cyber collaboration with Israel is also recognized by members of Congress who in recent years have introduced legislation to foster such initiatives.
For example, this year “United States-Israel Cyber Security Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017” passed the House and was introduced in the Senate. If the bill becomes law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to create a grant program for cyber security R&D and the “demonstration and commercialization of cyber security technology.”
Additionally, legislation and executive initiatives in the pursuit of cyber collaboration between the U.S. and Israel are not only critical in relation to national security in the international arena, but they can also serve as a way for the U.S. to glean from Israeli expertise in cyber security to implement new ways in fighting potential internal cyber threats to the U.S.’s critical infrastructure.
The U.S.’s internal critical infrastructure consists of 16 sectors that support a broad range of American society such as the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector, the Financial Services Sector and the Healthcare and the Public Health Sector. Accordingly, major obstruction as to how these sectors are carried out will have a significant impact on U.S. national security, its economy and public health.
Cyber threats can pose a particular type of obstruction in the management of critical infrastructure. Thus, to prevent possible cyber-attacks to critical infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has created the Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA). This office utilizes research to best understand the nature of potential cyber-attacks and create prevention and response plans so that America’s critical infrastructure will not be victim to the significant damage to national order and security that such attacks can pose.
Thus, to better predict and strengthen the systems that manage U.S. critical infrastructure especially from potential cyber threats that originate from regions in the Middle-East, further legislative and executive initiatives are crucial to encourage U.S.-Israeli cyber intelligence cooperation in this particular area.
Overall, the U.S.-Israel alliance today faces national threats that go beyond the physical realm of war. Both countries, however, have the technological competencies and advantages relative to each of their surrounding regional actors to succeed in the cyber war. More legislative efforts and cooperation between tech companies from both nations, however, are essential in order for the necessary advancements in cyber innovation in the interest of national security to be realized.
U.S.-Israel 1985 Free Trade Agreement: (http://www.aipac.org/learn/us-and-israel/technology-innovation)
Trump Administration Efforts to Increase U.S.-Israeli Cyber Ties & Bossert Quote: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-israel-cyber-idUSKBN19H1KE
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs—June 2016 U.S.-Israel Cyber Agreement http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/2016/Pages/Israel-and-the-US-sign-operative-cyber-defense-cooperation-agreement-21-June-2016.aspx
Brief Description of Stuxnet: (http://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/news/stuxnet)
Stuxnet and the Bush/Obama Administration: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/stuxnet-was-work-of-us-and-israeli-experts-officials-say/2012/06/01/gJQAlnEy6U_story.html?utm_term=.6bd9639ef425
Declaration of Friendship Treaty: http://tcc.export.gov/Trade_Agreements/All_Trade_Agreements/exp_005440.asp
Point Four Agreement for Technical Cooperation: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/Treaties/technological.pdf
Memorandum of Understanding: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/u-s-israel-memorandum-of-understanding-on-strategic-cooperation-november-1981
The Carter and Reagan Administration & Israel: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/evolution-of-us-israel-strategic-alliance-jewish-virtual-library
United States-Israel Cyber security Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017 Description: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/612?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22Israel+cybersecurity%22%5D%7D&r=3
Critical Infrastructure Centers: https://www.dhs.gov/critical-infrastructure-sectors
Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis: https://www.dhs.gov/office-cyber-infrastructure-analysis