Israelis cast their votes in Jerusalem, March 23, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli security agency launches Operation Defend our Democracy amid concerns for Russian and Iranian interference.

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

Concerned about foreign interference in upcoming elections, the Shin Bet launched Operation Defend our Democracy, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Friday.

Officials in Jerusalem are concerned that bots and fake social media accounts will polarize Israeli political discourse. They also fear cyberattacks on computerized election systems.

According to the report, Vocativ, a New York-based technology company, disclosed that hundreds of Iranian bots and fake accounts are already trying to radicalize Israeli discourse on social media with the goal of increasing social divisions.

Meanwhile, Maariv reported that the Shin Bet, at Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s directive, appealed to Russia to avoid and prevent hacking attempts.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog reportedly raised the issue in a recent telephone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to one cybersecurity expert quoted by Maariv, “The interference is not politically motivated.”

“The Iranians are not really interested in the success of this or that political party. As far as they are concerned, everyone is the same. What they are trying to do is destabilize Israeli society, and intensify divisions, hatred and anger. In this regard, they have a broad range of targets in an area that is almost completely unprotected.”

The Maariv report was denied by Israeli officials the next day with the Shin Bet refusing to comment.

Channel 12 added that escalating rhetoric among Israelis would play into Iranian hands, especially if it leads to violence. According to Channel 12, the Shin Bet contacted 10 Israelis to warn them that extremist pre-election rhetoric could lead to their arrest.

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