Which "foreign country" did Nadav Argaman، the director of the Shin Bet domestic security agency، refer to on Monday when he warned of attempts to interfere in Israel's elections? Argaman made his comments at a civilian forum، likely under the assumption they would be reported by the media، in an effort to deter that country، warn Israeli citizens of "fake news،" and perhaps also to recruit them to the effort to identify those interference attempts—based on knowledge accumulated from the campaigns in the US، France and Britain.
Argaman warned of a cyber attack or an "influence attack" on social media، meant among other things to undermine the citizenry's trust in its government، making it difficult for it to govern.
In the wake of Argaman's comments، the Shin Bet issued a statement saying "the State of Israel and its intelligence community have the tools and capability to locate، monitor and thwart attempts of foreign influence، if any are made. The Israeli security system has the ability to ensure the existence of free، democratic elections in the State of Israel." Russia denied any involvement and - in a variation on the fake news theme - ordered anyone listening not to read the Israeli media.
The Shin Bet head's warning came in the form of a strong statement: "I don’t know in favor of whom or against whom the foreign country will interfere. At this point، I cannot say which political interest plays a role here، however، a foreign country will attempt to meddle in the April elections، and I know what I'm talking about." He also said that this country would "attempt this using cyber measures، such as hackers."
The American attempt
One of the countries Argaman may have been talking about is indeed Russia، which has been accused of attempting to interfere in the elections of many other countries، particularly the United States. Moscow was accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections in an effort to promote the candidacy of Donald Trump and undermine his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Among other things، US intelligence agencies claimed that the Russian influence campaign included breaking into the computers of the Democratic Party and using social media to spread false information. However، in a report published in 2017، US intelligence agencies said they didn't try to estimate the effects of Russian interference on the results of the elections.
Even though President Trump repeatedly cast doubt on Russia's alleged interference in the elections he won، his senior aides accused Moscow of interference last August in another campaign—the midterm elections last November. The Director of National Intelligence in the US، Dan Coats، said at the time that Washington is preparing to protect the next presidential elections، in 2020، from such interference.
The Russian interference led to the launch of a special investigation by Robert Mueller، who is also examining possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian elements. The investigation led to indictments against many of the president's close associates. For example، Michael Flynn، who was briefly the national security advisor، admitted to lying in his testimony to the FBI about his ties with the Russians and signed a plea deal with Mueller.
The erstwhile head of Trump's campaign، Paul Manafort، also signed a plea deal، which was eventually cancelled because he apparently violated the deal by lying to investigators about the Russian involvement. Mueller's investigation also led to the downfall of Trump's close confidant and former lawyer Michael Cohen، who was sent to prison for three years after admitting to lying to Congress about the proposal to build a "Trump Tower" in Russia and about paying hush money to women who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.