Repression Diplomacy

The Israeli Cyber Industry

This flash report sheds light on Israel’s cybersecurity industry, including the role of the military and military industries, government agencies and academic institutions in the production and marketing of cyber technologies, and examines the ways cyber is mobilized by the state to enhance Israel’s political power and export repression, focusing on the UAE as a case study.

A major surveillance exporter, Israel is a key player in the fast growing global market for cybersecurity products. In 2020, Israeli cyber firms received approximately 31% of global investment in the sector, acquisitions of Israeli cyber companies generated some US$4.7 billion, and Israeli cyber exports stood at US$6.85 billion.[1]

The Israeli cyber industry is characterized by strong reciprocal ties between industry, military, academia and government. Through the military and state-owned military industries, public research and academic institutions and various government arms, the state assumes much of the cost of human capital development.

The Israeli government funnels hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting, funding and coordinating industrial and academic research and development (R&D) and promoting the Israeli cyber industry internationally. In recent years, Israel has signed cooperation agreements in the field of cyber with over 90 states and international organizations.[2] Through research partnerships, Israeli universities play a major role in facilitating connections between the Israeli industry and the rest of the world. Israeli scientists and companies participate in EU Framework Programmes projects such as FP7, Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. Under FP7 (2007-2013) alone, Israeli entities received over US$1.06 billion in grants and gained over US$2.4 billion in value of knowledge (IP).[3]

Unit 8200, the Israeli military’s signal intelligence unit, is the main body responsible for Israeli cyber offense. According to 8200 veterans, the unit’s intelligence is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).[4] But Unit 8200 also functions as a conveyer belt for the Israeli high-tech industry, which benefits from the commercialization of military knowledge, sanitized of its origins in Israel’s ongoing colonial domination of the Palestinian people. Over the years, 8200 veterans have founded over 1,000 companies, including Checkpoint Software Technologies, NICE Systems, Palo Alto Networks, and Cyber Ark.[5]

Cyber exports are the latest chapter in Israel’s long and lethal history of exporting repressive technologies to authoritarian regimes for economic and diplomatic gains. Business and economic ties reinforce, and at times pave the way for diplomatic relations and international cooperation, as can be seen in the recent normalization of political and economic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

According to journalists, researchers and human rights activists, Israeli cyber products have been used by repressive governments to track and detain activists, persecute LGBT people and silence political dissent. Though Israel formally adheres to export controls on dual-use items regulated under the Wassenaar Arrangement, it does not publicly disclose information on export licenses to specific companies or general licensing policies, undercutting prospects of accountability.[6]

[1] The Israeli cyber industry continues to grow: record fundraising in 2020, Israel National Cyber Directorate, 21 January 2021. Accessed 10 May 2021.

[2] Annual report 2019-2020, (Hebrew) Israel National Cyber Directorate, 27 October 2020. Israel National Cyber Directorate, 12 November 2020. Accessed 10 May 2021.

[3] Goldschmidt, R., Participation of the State of Israel in the Research and Development Framework Programme of the European Union, (Hebrew) The Knesset Research and Information Center, 6 February 2014.

[4] Israeli intelligence veterans' letter to Netanyahu and military chiefs - in full, The Guardian, 12 September 2014.

[5] Shezaf, H. and Jackobson, J., Revealed: Israel's Cyber-spy Industry Helps World Dictators Hunt Dissidents and Gays, Haaretz, 20 October 2018.

[6] UN Human Rights Council, Surveillance and human rights. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 28 May 2019, A/HRC/41/35.