CTC-ICT Focus on Israel: A View from the CT Foxhole: Brigadier General (Reserves) Nitzan Nuriel, Former Director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office of Israel.

AuthorWeinberg, Stevie

CTC/ICT: You spent more than 30 years in Israeli's security establishment, and you are still serving in the IDF reserve. What led you to such a distinguished career in the military? During your career, what was your biggest achievement? What was the most challenging moment?

Nuriel: I believe that not many Israelis know what they want to do in life when they enlist at 18 years old or what they are going to do for the next 35 years. It is a gradual process: You start your military service because it is mandatory, and then you see that you can be an officer. After that, you move up the ladder, and you become a platoon commander. And after a while, you are battalion commander. And then, you see that this is not just a career; this is a life mission.

During my military service, I believe that my biggest achievement was that I never lost a soldier in combat. I conducted many operations, I was wounded twice, but I never lost a soldier in combat.

Regarding the most challenging moments, I know that many people are looking for an answer that includes combat description and bravery. But no, not at all. The most difficult moments: having to pick the team that will go with me behind the enemy's line to conduct one of these operations. You are sitting in your tent or in your office and you have to pick the 20 individuals that you will take with you, and by picking them, you know that you may put them at a very high risk. They may not come back home, and this is not a feeling that you can prepare for.

CTC/ICT: In 2001, you served as the IDF Military Attache at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. What role, if any, did Israel play in assisting the United States in the establishment of its Global War on Terror post-9/11?

Nuriel: I had the honor to serve as the Israeli military representative in Washington, D.C., at the time of the overall American military efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan and later against the Baath regime in Iraq. At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created with Governor [Tom] Ridge as its first secretary. I was part of the team that supported and advised him. From that aspect, we provided him with all the knowledge we had. We sat down several days a week, every week, and provided him and his staff with the Israeli counterterrorism and homeland security experience.

I've always told my counterparts that you cannot take the Israeli structures and doctrine as they are. You have to adapt; you have to see what is relevant and what is less relevant. From that perspective, we provided, on the military side as well as on the civilian side, everything we had. No secrets, no boundaries, no limits. Everything was on the table.

For example, on the military side, at that time we spoke a lot about how to counter IEDs. We shared our methodologies and technology. On the civilian side, we spoke a lot about what the right counterterrorism apparatus should be; what the tasks and boundaries between the police, firefighters, first aid are; how to create a command-and-control concept in times of disaster. Ultimately, I believe that we helped the United States realize that they needed a different security structure.

More generally, we have very good cooperation with our Americans allies on the intelligence, operational, as well as technological side. And with those connections, we dramatically increased efforts to deal with the money behind terrorism, which is a keystone. Without money, you will not be able to conduct terror attacks. And for that, we need to keep increasing cooperation not only with the United States, but also with other countries.

On the technology side, the concept has been that if there is one agency on the Israeli side and one agency on the U.S. side that are looking for technological solutions to a problem, we will invest both of us, the American and Israelis, in order to find solutions. And that mechanism worked for many years. I had the privilege to lead that mechanism through the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), and all in all, we provided good answers to some of the challenges that both Israel and the United States were facing.

It has also been important to share lessons learned. When something happens--for example, the April 2022 terror attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv--it is important to present it to our allies overseas and think together, what are the relevant shared lessons learned? (1)

CTC/ICT: How would you assess the evolution of Israel's counterterrorism policy? Where has Israel been most effective and least effective?

Nuriel: During my tenure as the director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, I launched an initiative to have an Israeli-written counterterrorism strategy. It took me a while to convince the prime minister and his staff that it was needed. They provided me with a small budget and allowed me to start the process. Unfortunately, it was never completed because of various political limitations. We had a team, we started writing these concepts, and after a year or so, we received a red light (i.e., "we don't want you to write a policy."). I believe that the political echelon was afraid to have a policy that may have forced them to take certain decisions when they favored a status quo.

Looking into the tools we have in our counterterrorism basket, I believe that the most successful approach we have had is in the way we counter suicide...

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