Unit 8200 is Listening


On June 6, 1967, the second day of the Six Day War, a secret unit in Israel, known only as 8200, intercepted and recorded a radiophone conversation between Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan.

Nasser: Does Britain have aircraft carriers?

Note Nasser’s stunning ignorance of British military capabilities.

Hussein: (Unintelligible)

Nasser: Very well. So King Hussein will publish and we shall publish an announcement.

Nasser is pushing the lie that the British are fighting with the Israelis. Never underestimate the centrality and durability of conspiracy theories in the Muslim world.

Hussein: Thank you.

Nasser: Yes, Yes. Hello, good morning my brother, be strong.

Hussein: Mr. President, if you have any request or idea… at any time.

Nasser: We are fighting with all our forces. The fighting goes on all fronts, all the night, and if there was anything at the beginning, never mind, we shall overcome. Allah will be with us. Will his Highness publish an announcement concerning British and American participation?

Nasser, a staggeringly inept leader, neglects to inform King Hussein that the entire Egyptian air force was wiped out by the Israeli Air Force in the first few hours of the war. Instead, Nasser gives the impression that maybe things have not have gone so well in the first few hours of the war but hey, it’s going to be fine and by the way, let’s tell the world that the the British and, what the heck, the Americans are fighting alongside the Israelis.

Hussein: (Unintelligible)

King Hussein was clueless about the facts on the ground, but he was not a stupid man. As soon as Nasser fabricated American and British military forces Hussein’s instincts must have told him that the Egyptian military situation was less than rosy.

Nasser: I swear to Allah that we shall publish an announcement, and you will publish and we shall see to it that the Syrians will publish an announcement that American and British aircraft are participating against us from aircraft carriers. We shall announce it and emphasize it.

Hussein, always suspicious of the mercurial and grandiose Nasser, gives a neutral response.

Hussein: Okay.

Nasser picks up on the less than enthusiastic “okay” and presses the hapless monarch.

Nasser: Your Highness, do you agree?

I can just see the crafty Hussein slapping his palm over the phone’s speaker and letting loose with a few grunts to confuse the increasingly desperate Nasser.

Hussein: (unintelligible)

Nasser: Thousands of thanks. Be strong. We are with you with all our hearts. Our aircraft are over Israel all day long today. Our aircraft are pounding the Israeli airbases since this morning.

Nasser is urging Hussein to open a third front—Syria was the Northern front—against Israel and join in the glory and spoils. Hussein is not biting—at least not yet.

Hussein: A thousand thanks, good-bye.


Here’s what the Egyptian air force looked like when Nasser urged King Hussein to declare war on Israel, June 1967

Political pressure on King Hussein was enormous. And though the Israelis cautioned Hussein not to enter the fray, the Jordanian monarch opened up with an artillery barrage on Jerusalem’s New City joining forces with Nasser. Hussein lost half his kingdom: Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem’s Old City, which the Jordanians had ethnically cleansed of all Jews back in 1948.

This phone call—Arab politics at its most squalid—with Nasser’s big lies, has yielded geo-political consequences that reverberate to this very day.

Unit 8200 is Israel’s NSA, though working on a far more modest budget.

In the past few weeks, as Hamas and Hizbullah have intensified their eliminationist war against the Jewish State, Israel has struck back with near pin-point accuracy.

Leading Hamas terrorists have been killed and arrested. A shipment of arms intended for Gaza was intercepted on the high seas. In Sudan the IAF—uncredit—incinerated an Iranian/Syrian convoy laden with arms headed towards the terrorist state of Gaza.

Each strike is the result of Unit 8200’s unique and top-secret electronic capabilities. Some intelligence gathering missions go on for months, if not years. And sometimes, under a ticking time-bomb scenario, Unit 8200 must gather intel within a few short hours so the military and Shin Bet can act.

About a year ago, Karen and I had lunch with an ex-member of Unit 8200. Sober, articulate, yet thoroughly bright and cheerful, this young woman—Orthodox, modest and quite beautiful—would only say that her service in the elite 8200 made her acutely aware of the multiple existential threats arrayed against the Jewish State and the Jewish people.

It’s a frightening world, but it’s good to know that Unit 8200 is out there watching and listening.

This entry was posted in Counterterrorism, Islamic Terror, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Unit 8200. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

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  1. Posted April 16, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I wonder sometimes whether the fantastic reputation Israel’s security agencies have for excellent, almost superhuman work might harm the country in the long run. If I based my opinion of Israel solely on stories about these groundbreaking successes, and the popular image of Mossad and other agencies you find in, say, Daniel Silva’s novels, I’d probably find myself lulled into a false sense of security about Israel’s chances for survival. While the Six Day War is considered the yardstick for Israeli perseverance, I think the truth is more like the Yom Kippur War – a closely-fought thing, that was as likely to fail as succeed. Even people who hate Israel tend to give overestimate its success rate, and its supporters definitely do, more than not. I think it breeds a complacency that might be corrosive.

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  2. Posted April 15, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    What is striking to me is how this story resembles Purim.
    Hashem demonstrates His Hidden Hand in using Nasser’s hubris and utter incompetence to persuade the crafty Hussein to attack Israel in order for the end result of Israel gaining dominion over Jerusalem once more.
    Unfortunately – at that point, it is up to the Jews to use G-d’s beneficence appropriately or… perish the thought, to let the Amalekites do whatever they wish with G-d’s Holy Land of Israel in order not to offend the rest of the world…

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  3. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Prophet Joe:
    Because Israel is such a tiny country working on limited budgets, they have become adept at improvising. From the battlefield to the computer terminal, Israelis rely on free-wheeling creativity rather than bloated budgets.

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  4. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    HaShem watches, but he tasks us with the free will to order our lives.

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  5. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    You are correct. I have met quite a few 8200 alumni who have chosen not to reveal their background.
    One of the reasons 8200 alumni work together, besides the obvious, is that they are able to talk to one another about their previous work, which is a huge relief for men and women who are forced to remain secretive their entire lives.

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  6. Posted April 14, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Let’s see — we spend BILLIONS on building black, radar evading airplanes which can only effectively fly at night and the IDF spends millions (if that) on writing software to disable the enemy’s radar network… what is it they say about “working smarter”?

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  7. Zev
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “It’s a frightening world, but it’s good to know that Unit 8200 is out there watching and listening.”
    …and the Big Unit Upstairs is watching over Unit 8200 and the rest of us!

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  8. ELevy
    Posted April 14, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Robert, you have probably meet many ‘alumni’ of 8200, or at least are aquianted with their work. From the ranks of 8200 come the founders of most of Israeli high-tech start-ups. They network and recruit eachother and are the special fiber that makes coming out of the IDF and into high-tech the backbone of Israel’s economy.
    If you have not read “Start-up Nation”, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, I highly recommend it. It is the story of Israel’s econ miracle and reads like a spy novel.

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  9. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Stuxnet is definitely a product of 8200. Israel has long been in the vanguard of developing their cyberwarfare capabilities.
    Not often discussed is how Israel blinded Syrian radar in order to take out the North Korean/Iranian built nuclear facility In Syria. It was an astonishing display of cyberwarfare coordinated with a military strike.

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  10. Johnny
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Unit 8200 is most likely the source of the Stuxnet virus. If so they deserve kudos for at least delaying the Iranian nukes.
    Nasser, a staggeringly inept leader,
    If the measure of a leader is to improve the lives of the citizens of their country, you can substitute every Arab leader’s name for Nasser and maintain a 1.000 batting average. And it will probably be true in 10, 20 or 50 years despite all the uprisings today in the ME.

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  11. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    On record are Unit 8200 intercepts of Nasser, in the first few hours of the war, learning that his Air Force had been reduced to ashes and scrap metal.
    That is the very reason Nasser lied to Hussein and put so much pressure on the Hashemite to open the third front, in the vain hope of relieving pressure on his ground troops who were already in full flight or full surrender.
    As a military strategist, Nasser was a moron.

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  12. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    The NSA and Unit 8200 have a pretty close relationship, but since Obama took office, intel sharing has slowed considerably for obvious reasons.

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  13. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there is such a conversation. Eshkol practically begs Hussein not to open up a new front.

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  14. Robert J. Avrech
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Hussein was a bit more rational than the other tyrants but his method of collecting taxes in Judea and Samaria, AKA the West Bank, was, er, unique. He would open up on a village with artillery.

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  15. Brad Brzezinski
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    On Day 2 of the 1967 War, it is entirely possible that Nasser was not yet aware of the decimation of his air force. In dictatorships, underlings are usually afraid to pass on bad news.

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  16. fred lapides
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Got to love the NSA. They are by far the biggest of our intel organizations and the least known, and yet are now building massive new place in mid-west.
    I believe they do share intel with allies often enough,so , for example, wikileaks revealed that Lebanese govt in touch with Israel to hit Hezbollah during the early stages of that war (at the time, the Lebanese govt not yet fully in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran), and that information had to come via electronic snooping.

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  17. Posted April 13, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Isn’t there also tape of Levy Eshkol calling King Hussein and urging him not to enter the war? I believe he tells Hussein all Jordanian interests would be protected by the Israelis if he stayed out of it.

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  18. Bill Brandt
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Robert it would be fascinating to know in world history how leaders intent on invasions have misinterpreted diplomatic communications.
    I read that the North Koreans invaded the South and of course the famous April Gillespie communication – for every one we know there are probably dozens of others through the years…
    I always viewed Hussein as the more rational of the whole middle east Arab world….
    And as you mentioned such profound outcomes…

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