Israel says it can foil foreign election meddling amid scare

Israel says it can foil foreign election meddling amid scare
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman recently told a closed audience that a foreign country was trying to intervene in the April elections. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019

Israel says it can foil foreign election meddling amid scare

Israel says it can foil foreign election meddling amid scare
  • Israel is a cyber superpower with a governmental cyber defense body
  • It still uses paper ballots on election day rather than digital systems, so it would seem better prepared for a potential offensive than others

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Shin Bet security service assured the public Wednesday it was well prepared to thwart any foreign intervention in the country’s upcoming elections, after its director warned a world power was making such efforts.
The statement followed reports that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman recently told a closed audience that a foreign country was trying to intervene in the April elections and that operatives were trying to meddle via hackers and cyber technology.
“The Shin Bet would like to make clear that the state of Israel and the intelligence community have the tools and capabilities to identify, monitor and thwart foreign influence efforts, should there be any,” it said. “The Israeli defense apparatus is able to guarantee democratic and free elections are held in Israel.”
Argaman did not say for whose benefit the alleged meddling was being done. Initial reports about his comments were placed under a military gag order that was later lifted, though the naming of the country is question is still prohibited.
Even so, suspicion immediately fell on Russia, which is accused of trying to influence the 2016 American election in favor of Donald Trump, the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom and other recent European elections.
“We demand that the security forces make sure Putin doesn’t steal the election for his friend, the dictator Bibi,” said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish Meretz party, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
Netanyahu is far ahead in the polls at the moment, and does not appear to need any outside help.
Israel is a cyber superpower with a governmental cyber defense body. It still uses paper ballots on election day rather than digital systems, so it would seem better prepared for a potential offensive than others. But it could still be vulnerable to other types of pre-election intervention, like hacking into party databases, spreading disinformation through social media and leaking personal and embarrassing material on the candidates, said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, an expert on technology policy at the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute.
“Russia is trying throughout all the Western countries to undermine the public’s trust in liberal democracy,” she said. “There is no doubt they will try to do here what they have done in other countries.”
The Israeli warning came just days after Twitter suspended an account that posted links to sensitive personal data and documents stolen by hackers from hundreds of German public figures and politicians — from every political party but the far-right Alternative for Germany. Germany has seen mounting cyberattacks on government and parliament computer systems since 2014 in which Kremlin-backed hackers were suspected. France also fended off a pre-2017 election hacking effort against Emmanuel Macron that was attributed to Russia.
Shwartz Altshuler said Israel’s major systems appeared safe, but that outside companies working for various parties had the same kind of resources as those working for Russia to sow havoc in a campaign. She called for tougher laws to be passed against politically-driven cyber activity.
“We are a start-up nation when it comes to technology but we are behind the curve in terms of digital legislation,” she said.


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.