Israeli Military Launches 'Operational Chat' App That Is Similar To WhatsApp


Specialized and dedicated apps for government bodies don't care about the number of users or the rate of adoption, or commercialization. Those apps only need to be straightforward by prioritizing functions over gimmicks.

This is why those apps aren't always created with the best user experience in mind.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) wants the best of both worlds, by launching a new and secure messenger app by replicating the looks-and-feel of a messaging app everybody knows: WhatsApp.

WhatsApp boasts privacy and security, describing it as being “in our DNA.” But the app is owned by Facebook, a company that lives and thrives from user data. What's more, WhatsApp's security is already under increasing threat and scrutiny due to to fears of metadata mining.

This chat app from IDF, is part of its digital transformation that puts WhatsApp security to shame. But the cloud-based apps is also designed to put user experience first.

Brig. Gen. Ziv Avtalion, the Commander of IDF’s Digital Transformation Administration, said that it's part of his efforts to change the culture.

IDF "operational chat" app. (Credit: Forbes/IDF)

IDF's "operational chat" app here is unlike other government apps or military platforms, as it has been designed to be intuitive, with a look-and-feel of WhatsApp.

This is to ensure that Israeli soldiers can shift from using everyday smartphones and apps to military machines seamlessly, “to get information to soldiers while they fight against the enemy, not keeping it in headquarters, bringing them the advantage to win the battle.”

This makes the app unlike those that are highly classified operational platforms that are already being used to disseminate real-time intel to frontline troops, for example. But it's through this approach that the users of the messaging app can feel familiar and safe while discussing real-time terrorist incursions, enemy positions and planned strikes.

“Since we wanted the chat to be comfortable and intuitive,” the Brig. Gen. said to Forbes.

"Operational chat is a kind of IDF WhatsApp—it works similarly to WhatsApp, with groups, contacts, search engines, the ability to attach photos, and, in the future, we will add classified video calls, voice recordings and mapping abilities. These are significant operational abilities.”

The platform also includes subject-specific channels, “much like Telegram.”

“Its user experience,” an IDF spokesperson told Forbes, “which is much like WhatsApp, builds upon soldiers’ knowledge and experience using their own mobile phones.”

The new messenger “allows for intelligence and operations to transfer immediate classified information to the field and for soldiers in the field to transfer real time information back to HQ. The information is quick and exact and reaches all relevant bodies in real time.”

Brigadier General Ziv Avtalion, in charge of bringing the Israeli military to the internet, as part of IDF's "Momentum Plan". (Credit: Wikipedia/IDF)

At this time, the IDF operates at many as 20,000 “multi-branched chat groups.".

But through this particular messaging platform, the IDF wants to adopt a more mainstream look-and-feel of apps, to ensure that soldiers can understand military apps with ease.

“When I use this machine, I use this in one way as a civilian," said Brig. Gen Avtalion, pointing to his iPhone.

"But I have devices that look the same that I use for operational events. The person who uses it doesn’t see the difference between his regular machine and his operational machine. He’s being taught how to use the digital device to achieve his goals—it’s connected to culture.”

As an "operational chat" platform, this messaging app is not meant for public and cannot be installed on ordinary phones owned by non-personnel. It's only meant to be used on military devices, with users that are also in the military.

In other words, this app is a military/intel platform and not a general messenger.

The development of the app started in 2017, with phased deployment from 2019.