TEL AVIV (dpa) – A protest letter by 43 Israeli intelligence officers, in which they announced they refused to continue serving in an elite unit that uses what they view as Stasi-like methods to monitor Palestinians, has sparked uproar in Israel.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday the officers should be tried. Military spokesman Moti Almoz said the reservists from elite intelligence Unit 8200 would face disciplinary measures.
Steinitz justified the unit’s activities. All intelligence gathering involved privacy intrusions, he told Army Radio, but in Israel this was of vital importance to fight terrorism.
“There is no place for refusal (of orders) in the Israel Defence Force (IDF),” Brigadier-General Almoz wrote in a statement.
“In the IDF, up to the highest officer, this is regarded with severity and the disciplinary response will be sharp and clear.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook page late Saturday praised other members of the unit who oppose the protest letter.
“Soldiers of 8200, the citizens of Israel owe you gratitude for your professional and devoted service to the state of Israel. Continue with your work that is so important for the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon also late Saturday issued a statement condemning the protest letter, saying it aided efforts by anti-Israeli groups to “delegitimise” Israel and insisting the unit was “moral.”
The protest letter to Netanyahu, published Friday in the Israeli media, charged the eavesdropping methods used by the unit violated the rights of millions of people.
“We cannot, in good conscience, continue to serve in this system,” the soldiers said, adding they “refuse to be a tool for deepening the military control in the occupied territories.”
It was signed by a major and several captains from Unit 8200 – the largest military unit and one tasked with elite signals intelligence and decryption.
The harshly worded statement also states that intelligence is used to harm innocent civilians, enables political persecution and causes divisions within Palestinian society through the recruitment of collaborators.
The full names of the people signing the letter were not made public.
The soldiers were also critical of the Israeli settlement policy, which involves building Jewish-only towns on the occupied West Bank.