NILI: Israel's New Intelligence Unit in Search of Hamas


NILI: Israel's New Intelligence Unit in Search of Hamas
NILI: Israel's New Intelligence Unit in Search of Hamas © Getty Images News/Amir Levy

Israeli media sources reported the formation of a specialized intelligence unit to track down members of Hamas involved in the October 7 attack on Israel.

Formation and Speculation

Dubbed "NILI", an acronym derived from the biblical Hebrew phrase "Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker" or "Eternal Israel Will Not Lie", this unit is believed to be a collaborative effort between Israel's Internal Security Service (Shin Bet) and its renowned international spy agency, Mossad.

Yet, despite the media buzz, the Israeli government remains tight-lipped, neither confirming nor denying NILI's existence. However, Ahron Bregman, a notable Israeli political scientist at King's College London and a former Israeli army member, believes the unit is very much operational, basing his assertion on reliable sources.

Shahin Modarres, an authority on Iranian and Israeli intelligence at the International Team for Security Studies in Verona, views the development as a strategic response. He suggests that the creation of NILI could be a means for Shin Bet and Mossad to redeem themselves, following criticisms of an intelligence lapse that might have facilitated the October 7 attack.

Historical Precedent: Operation Wrath of God

Many are drawing parallels between NILI's purported mission and the infamous Operation Wrath of God. Following the tragic massacre of Israeli athletes by the Palestinian group Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mossad launched a covert operation to eliminate the perpetrators, an effort that lasted two decades and was well-documented in Steven Spielberg's 2005 film, Munich.

Bregman highlights that this historical operation underscores Israel's commitment to bringing attackers to justice. He notes, "This is what is now to be expected from NILI."

The "Kidon" Connection

The shadowy "Kidon", an elite covert operations unit under Mossad, is no stranger to such manhunts.

Responsible for hunting down Black September members, they have been lauded for their precision and discretion in eliminating high-profile targets, including those suspected of developing Iran's nuclear program. There's speculation that members of "Kidon" might play pivotal roles within NILI.

Modarres comments on their unique approach to assassination, emphasizing their penchant for sending resounding messages through their operations. Yet, operations in the densely-populated Gaza present unique challenges. "The main difference is that NILI will take place while Israel is at war with Hamas," explains Modarres.

Expanding the Horizon

While the primary focus seems to be on Gaza-based members of Hamas's elite Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Bregman suggests that operations might extend beyond the region. Potential targets could include individuals residing in nations like Qatar and Turkey.

However, past experiences, such as the botched attempt to assassinate Khaled Meshaal in Amman in 1997, serve as a cautionary tale, reminding Mossad of the intricate geopolitics at play and the necessity for utmost discretion.