Israel’s Military Intelligence is breeding ground for business and high-tech successes

IDF 8200 Intelligence Unit

Veterans of the IDF’s fabled MI 8200 unit are behind a number of successful high-tech corporations, business ventures, media groups and culture initiatives.

A recent report in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper maps out the graduates of the 8200 Unit, and tries to measure their impact on Israeli society and economy.

Graduates of 8200 include Israeli billionaire Mori Arkin, owner of pharmaceutical companies and partner in Bank Hapoalim; Sami Totah, behind several ventures including Viola Ltd investment firm; and Yoram Turbowitz, previously head of the huge Delek energy group. Graduates are also behind successful high-tech venture such as Checkpoint, Nice, Palo Alto Networks and Brainsway. Aharon Farkash, a former commander of the unit, founded and is the chief executive of FST21, set up in 2007. Of the ten engineers in the company, seven are ex-8200 personnel.

The 8200 connection has been noticed by businesses around the world. According to “Spies, Inc.” by Stacy Perman, venture capitalists from Los Angeles to Japan regularly ask potential Israeli partners: “Are you from the unit?” The book also calls Unit 8200 “the most important force in the Israeli economy.”

The exact workings of Unit 8200, like all military intelligence units, are shrouded in secrecy, and graduates of the prestigious unit are obliged to keep the details of the unit’s operations secret well after they are discharged from service. However, the ‘brain drain’ of graduates opting to leave the unit for enticing business and technology jobs, making use both of their unique skills and well-placed connections, is being noticed by the unit commanders, and plans are underway to provide its members with incentives to stay in the unit. As always, the exact details are uncertain.

"The army understands that it has to invest special resources in technological manpower, that they need to get conditions, service plans, benefits," an officer explained in a report on the unit by UPI Business News. He explained that Unit 8200 is a unique military institution because "we allow free thinking and creativity in order to allow the technology people to deal with their tasks."