Mossad continues to be at the forefront of Israel’s battle against its enemies in the 21st Century. But in a changing world, the spy agency must find ways to counter and adapt to new threats and challenges.
Below is a closer look at some key problems Mossad faces as the global and operational environment changes. Overcoming these obstacles will be crucial for Mossad as it safeguards Israel’s national security.
The surveillance state
Technological progress is constantly improving and creating powerful surveillance capabilities. Advanced cameras, sensors, biometrics, and cyber tools enable governments and organizations to monitor hostile action more closely and effectively than ever before.
For a spy agency this could be a nightmare as crossing borders, forging identities, and executing field missions becomes increasingly harder.
Mossad became fully aware of this new world in 2010, after it allegedly assassinated key Hamas lieutenant Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room. The local police force was able to piece together large chunks of the operation by reviewing and analyzing video footage, thereby exposing agents and operational methods.
Available technologies advanced dramatically since then, creating further complications for Mossad’s field units. However, we can assume that Israel’s intelligence experts are working to develop solutions to new problems, while using tech power to expand Mossad’s reach and capabilities.
A related problem is the potential use of big data and artificial intelligence to crack Mossad’s secrets. Spy chief David Barnea recently ordered the agency’s veterans to avoid any media interviews, Haaretz daily reported, warning that new analysis tools could uncover classified bits of information and reveal operational tactics.
Mastering Arabic and Farsi
Strong command of Arabic and Farsi will remain a central Mossad requirement for the foreseeable future. However, the spy agency’s language capabilities may be eroding due to demographic changes in Israel.
The large waves of Jewish immigration from the Arab world have dried up long ago and will not return, as few Jews remain in Muslim countries. By now, it has become much harder for Israel to groom deep cover agents like legendary spy Eli Cohen.
Mossad and Israel’s other defense arms are devising various strategies to counter this problem. One of them is to develop innovative programs for training Arabic and Farsi speaking operatives and analysts. Mossad is also relying on foreigners to carry out some of its most sensitive missions in enemy territory.
The language barrier will continue to pose a serious obstacle for Mossad as it moves deeper into the 21st Century. However, on this front too, the power of Israeli technology could compensate for weaknesses and offer new opportunities.
The China puzzle
While China is not an enemy of Israel, the Asian superpower is a factor of growing importance in Israel’s strategic environment. Beijing continues to expand its ties and footprint in the Middle East, and its relations with Iran are a particular cause for concern in Jerusalem.
However, Mossad’s ability to collect intelligence on this key global actor is limited, analyst Ami Rojkes Dombe says.
China’s extensive surveillance apparatus makes it harder for secret agents to operate in the country, Dombe wrote. Moreover, foreigners are easily identifiable, and Mossad does not have access to a large pool of potential Chinese recruits to overcome this handicap.
Chinese culture and language present another challenge for intelligence analysts and operatives, the article noted. Linguistic and cultural nuances are complex, and Israel does not produce many China experts that Mossad could hire and rely on.
Overall, China is a weak spot in Mossad’s wide-ranging intelligence-gathering system, the analysis concluded. Looking forward, Israel will need to devise a more effective strategy for dealing with this challenge, particularly if Beijing’s ties with Tehran continue to expand.