A Peek inside the IDF 8200's Combat Intelligence Unit

From listening to Hezbollah obtaining real-time information on Hamas in Gaza, the soldiers of the 8200 combat intelligence battalion are providing Israel an added technical edge

8200 combat soldiers operation during a drill (Photo: Aviyahu Shapira)

They have been around for five years, operating without a name or insignia. They are the combat soldiers of the elite intelligence unit 8200. Although 8200 is better known for its glasses-wearing computer geniuses, this section of the unit helps to gather field intelligence for the elite combat units in the IDF – including Sayeret Matkal and Shayetet 13.

The soldiers of the unit primarily collect Signals Intelligence or SIGINT. They are level-5 riflemen, who undergo Special Forces training, reports Ynet News.

Following Them Close until They're Assassinated

Between the anti-tank ditches on the Golan Heights over the course of several nights, the unit's fighters, cloaked in camouflage gear and under cover of darkness, deployed their hi-tech intelligence gathering devices to 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 were just 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 on 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.

"We call these 'SIGINT' sensors," Y. said. "The soldiers carry 50 percent of their body weight on them, like in the rest of the IDF. The enemy, including our main enemy Hezbollah – have people who do (what we do). They are our biggest challenge. There's a reason that soldiers who go out to guard the border don't take their cell phones with them."

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 different borders. Dozens of computers were captured from Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. During Operation Protective Edge, the fighters joined ground forces within 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 do not view themselves as a battalion, and not only because it's "uncomfortable" for them. They work in small, elite teams, with each team or 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 does not 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.

 

The article was originally published in Ynet News.