IDF is only 22% protected from drone attacks – comptroller report

IDF intelligence suffering because of the move from North to South.

Only 22% of the IDF has any protection from drone attacks, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said in a report on Monday.

Covering the time period of October 2019 – June 2020, the report fleshes out in grim numbers and details how poorly defended Israel is from drone strikes, despite an earlier 2017 report sounding the alarm.

In fact, Englman said that as of July 2020, there were 30,000 drones operating in Israel which had undertaken 90,000 flights in the Tel Aviv region alone over the last year.

The vast majority of them are unregistered – and there is no widespread technological solution to follow them or enforce limits on them.

There is anti-drone technology, which has only developed in the last few years. But beyond possibly the IDF, Israel has been slower than the US and some other countries in taking advantage of some of its own native companies’ capabilities in this area.

The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) reported that it has had dozens of incidents of its facilities being penetrated or observed by drones.

Out of NIS 150 million allotted to work on technological means to combat the drone threat, the state has only used NIS 87m.

This means that the country’s failure to address the threat is both a failure of conception as well as follow-through, even when there is some level of commitment.

Englman wrote that, “broadening the use of drones carries with it many advantages, but the constant advancement in technology and ease of acquiring it carries with it an obligation to deal with the developing security, criminal and safety threat, which includes dangers to the lives of human beings and national security.”

AS MUCH as the IDF may be unprepared, the report found that the state has overwhelmingly ignored the needs of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the police and the IPS regarding the drone threat.

Further, the comptroller said that ignoring this issue was a repeat problem, given that it had been raised by a prior report in 2017 and again more recently by the Israeli Air Force’s defense arm.

One cause of the slow adjustment of many of Israel’s authorities to the drone threat has been continuous unresolved disagreements about lines of authority.

The IDF, the Shin Bet and the police have had disagreements dating back to before the 2017 comptroller report. More recently, the Air Force and Israel’s civilian aviation authority have disagreed about dividing up responsibility for the threat.

Another front where the comptroller found shortcomings in cooperation to combat drones was by the Israel Electric Company.

More specifically, Englman said that the police and the Israel aviation authority must cooperate to establish the real infrastructure for charging individuals for drone-related crimes.

In fact, the report said that the Police did not even follow through on its own program which it had prepared for addressing the drone threat.

Next, the comptroller expresses some hope that as of September 2020, some of these issues and the registration issues may be on the road to being addressed.

Another problem flagged by the report was a failure from the many authorities involved in the issue to share information.

The comptroller called on all of the authorities involved to quickly jump on handling the threat and cooperating at a much more efficient level.

MEANWHILE, the comptroller also criticized the government for harming the IDF intelligence’s capabilities by moving large portions of its units to the Beersheba area without following through on commitments to make the move smoother for IDF intelligence personnel.

For example, the report said that 93% of IDF intelligence staff who are meant to work in the South do not currently live there.

This includes thousands of officers, many of whom have families and cannot easily relocate or easily commute all the way to Beersheba.

The problem derives from the fact that many planned out where they would live around the assumption that they would serve in the Tel Aviv corridor, since that is where IDF intelligence has historically been located.

Recent years have seen rampant reports that top IDF intelligence officers are leaving for the private sector in order to avoid having to move to the South, though they would have been happy to continue to serve without the move.

The background for the move has been long-term government efforts to open up popular areas in the Tel Aviv corridor and the middle of the country to public housing in order to bring down housing prices nationwide.

Regarding moving IDF intelligence to the South, as well as its logistics command, the report covers the period from October 2019 until May 2020.

The issue started to be addressed in 2008, Englman said, but the last meeting of a key committee for pushing through incentives and removing obstacles for IDF intelligence officials to be able to move to the South was in 2016.

Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having tasked National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat in March 2019 with resolving disagreements between the defense establishment, the Finance Ministry and the Transportation Ministry, the report said that little progress has been made.

Already back in 2011, NIS 19 billion had been dedicated to enable IDF intelligence to move, with a full NIS 1.3b. dedicated to incentivizing IDF officials to stay on, including subsidizing mortgages and housing in the South.

The IDF responded to the drone-related criticism saying that it is investing tremendous attention and resources into the issue when it comes to defending against invading drones from outside Israel.

Further, the IDF said it rejected criticism that its response has been slow because it opted for a more expensive means of defense when cheaper means were available.

It said that the cheaper means were inadequate.

Next, the IDF accepted the idea that it must do more to train and prepare for individual bases within Israel to be protected against drones.

It said there would be new recommendations about this within a few months.

At the same time, the IDF said that the police had agreed to take responsibility for drones whose flight path originated within Israel.

Finally, the IDF said that it is working with other relevant authorities to prepare a countrywide drone map as one of many steps for following their activities and enabling law enforcement.

The Israeli police responded to the report saying that one year ago it finalized procedures for enforcement against drone-related crimes.

Further, it said it has already successfully deployed conceptual and operative approaches to defending against drone issues, including during the Eurovision song contest held in Israel in 2019.

The police did appear to acknowledge they were not covering all necessary drone issues, referring to their limited resources and the need to focus on only the most serious situations.

Further, the police seemed to point the finger at the Finance Ministry and political deadlock over the country’s unapproved budget for not granting its full budget requests in this arena regarding either additional human resources or purchasing all new technological needs, as opposed to only some.

Likewise, while the IDF said it is committed to the state’s goal of moving IDF intelligence and logistics to the South, it blamed the project being held up on the government for failing to approve the needed budget to incentivize IDF officers.

The IDF cited some positive progress in 2020 in negotiating with government ministries over financial and transportation issues, but said that more progress was needed if the entire project is to have any hope of being realized.

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