August 27, 2014

Another "red phone" for the Israeli prime minister

(Updated: December 29, 2015)

In an earlier posting on this weblog we took a look at the phones used by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which included an eye-catching red one. In some more recent pictures we can see that this red phone has apparently been replaced by an interesting looking white telephone.

Although this device itself is white, it has a rarely seen but very distinctive feature: a red curly cord for the handset and also a red cable for the phone line. The buttons are also surrounded by some kind of red overlay:

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Defense Minister
Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, July 26, 2014 in Tel Aviv.
(Photo: Handout/Getty - Click to enlarge)

The dark gray phone at the left is a more common Nortel M3904 executive phone - a model which is also used at the NSA headquaters and at the office of the British prime minister. Nortel was a big Canadian telephone equipment manufacturer, but was dissolved in 2009.

The white telephone with the red cord also appears on a side table in the seating corner of Netanyahu's office, where before there was only a black phone. The latter is a more common Telrad Executive Phone 79-100-0000 from the Israeli telecom equipment manufacturer Telrad. This phone is also in the office of the Israeli defense minister and therefore it seems to be part of the (non-secure) internal phone system of both ministries.

Esther Pollard meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 23, 2013.
We clearly see the "new" white phone next to the existing black one.
(photo: Netanyahu's Facebook-page - Click to enlarge)

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
settle into their seats in Netanyahu’s office, January 2, 2014.
(Photo: US Department of State - Click to enlarge)

From the picture above we can make a close-up of the white telephone, which looks a bit different than the one in the first picture. It has no red overlay around the buttons, but instead a red lining around the display and red stripes on the back of the handset. Unfortunately the red letters above the display aren't readable:

The red markings and the red cords indicate that this phone is used like what in the US is called a "red phone". That's a telephone which is connected to a highly secured network for communicating with top level policymakers and military commanders. This doesn't necessarily mean that such a phone itself has to be capable of encrypting the voice data, that can also be done by an encryption device at the internal (secure) phone switch.

As the white telephone in Netanyahu's office is a rather large device, it could be possible that it can do the necessary encryption, although secure phones from other countries (like the STE used in the US) are often even bigger, so we cannot decide upon that.

Israel has its own manifacturer of secure communications equipment: the defense contractor Elbit Systems, which was formerly part of the Tadiran conglomerate. There are no pictures available of phones mabe by Tadiran or Elbit, so we cannot say whether the white telephone in the office of Netanyahu was made by this company.

The white telephone isn't actually very new, it is already in this picture from October 2011. Together with the black one from Telrad, the white phone is also on a side table next to another desk of Netanyahu, as we can see for example in this screenshot:

Prime Minister Netanyahu in one of his offices, October 9, 2013.
(photo: YouTube screen capture)

With the white phone not being completely new, it seems that it has been placed on Netanyahu's desk and in the seating corner on purpose: to show that the prime minister is always in charge and in contact with the military. Because of security reasons, it's rather unusual to see secure telephones with their classification markings in highly visible places like these ceremonial offices where guests are received and the press is allowed in.

Update #1:
A reader of this weblog has recognized the white telephone as a Coral DKT-2320 made by the Israeli company Tadiran Telecom. Although this is a spin-off of the same Tadiran from which Elbit Systems emerged, this is a common office phone without security features. Therefore the red markings and the red cords from the one in Netanyahu's office most likely indicate that this phone is connected to a switch where the calls are encrypted in bulk.

Update #2:
The phone with the red cord and the red surroundings of the buttons we saw in the first picture, now also appeared in two photos from a team within the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps’ Unit 9900, which were published in a IDF blog posting from April 2, 2015:

In this photo we have a better look at the "red phone", which appears to be a distinct version of the generic white ones which are next to the other work stations. This telephone is different though from the Tadiran Coral DKT-2320 mentioned above.

Update #3:
On December 29, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported about NSA's spying activities against Israel, saying that they had "a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office".


Anonymous said...

The white redphone looks to be based on a Tadiran "Coral" DKT 2320 or 2322.

P/K said...

You are right - thank you very much for recognizing and sharing!

Anonymous said...

Some of the text above the display on the red phone is readable. I'm not sure what it says on the left, but the upper right corner is Hebrew. It says אבן יקרה, "even yekara". The translation is "precious stone", or "gem". Those phones are spread throughout the Israeli military, IC, government, etc., pretty much anywhere that deals with sensitive information. The all-red phone seen at the start of the post is on the same network - it's just a "dumb" model that has no functionality besides picking up the phone and dialing (and maybe speed-dial memory), while the bigger one that's seen more clearly is a smart model, with various advanced features such as call forwarding. It _is_ weird that the dumb phone seen in the photo seems to be unplugged.

Anonymous said...

And regarding the white phone in update #2: the text across the top says "אגף התקשוב - אבן יסוד". The first two words refer to the IDF's telecommunications directorate, while the latter two translate roughly as "base/foundation stone/rock". The bottom end of the handset is labeled "בלמ״ס", short for בלתי מסווג or unclassified.

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