The Israeli Idea of Intelligence: Anatomy of the Israeli National Intelligence Culture
The academic field of intelligence studies has acknowledged that different nations perceive and practice intelligence differently: i.e., that they have distinct national intelligence cultures drawing on distinct ideas of intelligence. However, while research into intelligence cultures is developing, it remains heavily focused on the US and UK.
Meanwhile, although Israeli intelligence has received extensive attention through historical and practical perspectives, with studies focusing on analytical failures, counterterrorism, and covert operations, hitherto there has been no comprehensive study of it through a cultural lens. The thesis addresses this gap and offers a conceptualization (anatomy) of the Israeli national intelligence culture, by applying a strategic cultures framework and adopting a social constructivist research approach. It is based on 34 elite interviews with former and acting Israeli practitioners.
The thesis finds that Israeli intelligence culture is distinctive in the way in which it rejects formal management of the intelligence system on the national level, preferring informal cooperation between agencies and pluralism of intelligence assessments. Intelligence in Israel is action-inclined and integrated in decision-making. It is also practice-inclined and has been averse to intelligence theories and scientific methods, preferring adaptation through bottom-up innovations.
These characteristics reflect several sources: an Israeli strategic culture of exceptionalism arising from a sense of living under existential threats; a political culture of securitization; the historical origins of military intelligence dominance; and typical Israeli ‘chutzpah’. They also reflect lessons learned from two major traumas of Israeli intelligence: the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The thesis argues that Israeli intelligence culture is not unitary in essence nor fixed in time. However, moral courage, contrarian thinking, individual responsibility, and a sense of national mission have persisted as its foundational professional values. They highlight the enduring status of intelligence as a core pillar of Israeli national security.
Supervisor(s)David Strachan Morris; Mark Phythian
Date of award2023-08-07
Author affiliationSchool of History, Politics & International Relations
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester