From obtaining real time information on Hamas in Gaza, to listening to a Hezbollah telephone conversation, the soldiers of IDF’s 8200 combat intel battalion are giving Israel an added technical edge in protecting the Jewish State before going into battle.
By Yoav Zitun
It’s only been around for five years, and still doesn’t have a name or insignia. They are the combat soldiers of the elite intelligence unit 8200. Although 8200 is more known for its glasses wearing computer geniuses, this section of the unit helps to gather field intelligence for the most elite combat units in the IDF – including Sayeret Matkal and the Israeli Navy’s Shayetet 13.
The soldiers of the unit primarily collect signals intelligence, or SIGINT. They are level 5 riflemen, but still undergo special forces style training.
Following them close until they’re assassinated
Between the anti-tank ditches on the Golan heights over the course of several nights, the units fighters, cloaked in camouflage gear and under the cover of darkness, deployed their hi tech intelligence gathering devices at a Syrian town several miles away.
Artillery fire can be heard coming from the town, past the local mosque. You can hear the artillery firing, and then the thunderous boom as the shell lands a short while later. A mushroom cloud of smoke rises on the horizon from the impact point. Amongst the houses in the village which just got attacked, people are not only planning their counter attacks in Syria, but are preparing to attack Israel as well.
According to foreign sources, Israel has assassinated several high ranking Hezbollah and Iranian officials on this border, including Imad Mourghniyeh and Samir Kuntar. These kinds of operations could not have been done without these targets being followed electronically – particularly by reading online discussions, listening to phone calls, and a wealth of other means of electronic surveillance. They would have been followed and tracked electronically all day every day.”There are some operations which last a few hours, and some operations which last a few days,” said Lt. Col. Y., the head of the unit and a former Shaldag commando. “There were even times when we were out in the field for several months.”
Y. shared just a little bit about the operations of his unit, and only ventured a sly smile when asked about the giant, camouflaged device pointed towards the east. Using thick cables he connected to the tough, thin computers which the soldiers were holding, while the soldiers continuously typed on their keyboards.
Working directly under the IDF Chief of Staff
The soldiers leave from basic training at the IDF field intelligence base in the Arava desert as level 5 riflemen. After two more months of basic training within 8200, they are split up into different battalions; one which collects SIGINT during wartime, one which collects and decodes captured enemy materials, and those who are used as liaisons between the forward 8200 bases and the ground forces during wartime.
There are also “arabists” within the unit who are experts at reading and understanding the Arabic written and spoken on the various borders. Dozens of computers were captured from Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. During Operation Protective Edge, the fighters joined ground forces inside of Gaza, and were able to feed the ground forces intelligence about various terror cells laying in ambush in real time.
“The soldiers can be deployed on a mission to help one of the battalions stationed on the Golan Heights right now, and in two days, be deployed on another mission under the direct order of the IDF Chief of Staff,” added Lt. Col. Y.
A Unit, not a Battalion
There is no lack of motivation in this unit with no name, but currently known as ”Gadsam” – the operational SIGINT Battalion. But the officers and soldiers don’t view themselves as a battalion, and not only because it’s “uncomfortable” for them. They work in small, elite teams, with each team and unit connected to a different IDF force or battalion. The number of soldiers – including reservists – is also much smaller than a normal sized battalion.
The unit doesn’t pull people through a tryout process – instead, it finds the soldiers who dropped from other special forces tryouts, and who have high IDF psychological and physical evaluation scores.
Yet everything – from the vehicles they use to the combat boots on their feet, to the day to day interactions they have with the likes of ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas provides new meaning to the intelligence battle the IDF wages against its enemies.
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