Eagle Eye‏

The warfighters of the Ayit Battalion are responsible for surveillance and fire direction in the sector extending from Mount Hermon to the Syria-Jordan-Israel border triangle. "Hezbollah hides under the cover provided by the Syrian Army," says the battalion commander in a special interview

The Ayit Battalion's surveillance operators in action (Photo: Meir Azulay)

"Today the developments in Syria are less dynamic and less unpredictable compared to the last seven years," says Lt. Col. Yuval Litvin, Commander of the 595th Ayit (= Eagle) Combat Intelligence Battalion in a special interview with IsraelDefense. "The Syrians made an impressive move between June and August when they recaptured 600 square kilometers in southern Syria. In some places – through negotiations over surrender, and in other places through aggressive fighting with Russian support. Today we see the Syrian Army reconsolidating its positions. The same brigades that were deployed here prior to the civil war are returning to the front line, except one brigade that had been eliminated and a new one was formed in its place."

Force Build-Up on the Other Side

"Syria is building the same Army it has before 2012. The first contact brigades are deployed along our border with the divisions behind them and the GHQ reserves behind the divisions," explains Litvin. "The Syrians are building and reconstructing bases and posts. The rehabilitation of the Army is carried out according to the present reality. The Syrian Army was not a weak military force, and it is not a weak military force today. On the contrary – you see well-equipped soldiers who know how to fight and possess a fighting spirit. This army has emerged from six years of war. It is experienced and has a fighting spirit. They have not replaced the entire Army, but they learned a lot from the fighting. In the recapturing of southern Syria, opposite ISIS, we saw massive employment of fire and air power, pin-down efforts, assaults. They learned these things from the Russians. We saw combined arms operations and inter-arm combat efforts. They also learned guerrilla warfare tactics from Hezbollah – something they were not so good at previously."

The Ayit Battalion is responsible for surveillance and fire direction (a unique capability of the combat intelligence battalion deployed in the Syrian sector), from Mount Hermon to the Syria-Jordan-Israel border triangle. The length of this border is dozens of kilometers and in recent years, since 2012, it developed into a hot or even very hot border. "Between 1974 and 2012 it was quiet. We had a few surveillance resources in this sector plus a number of GHQ resources looking deep into Syrian territory," explains Litvin. "In 2013, the IDF realized that the cheese had moved and established this battalion

I am referring to the period prior to the establishment of the IDF 210th Division.

"Initially, the Battalion was established as a small organ with surveillance operators and warfighters. Today we are talking about 5 to 6 times those figures. The Battalion has a personnel of several hundreds of regular servicemen and hundreds more of reservists. The Battalion's force build-up was determined by the intensity of the fighting in Syria. As the war there intensified, the Battalion's order of battle increased. At the moment, we are waiting to see how the fighting in Syria will stabilize before making any decisions to change our order of battle."

Operating opposite so many organizations compels the warfighters of the Battalion to understand who's who in the game. In the southern part of the sector, the Islamic State was deployed, under different names. In the center – Jabhat al-Nusra, and in the north – the radical axis (Iran/Hezbollah). Litvin explains that the collapse of the Syrian Army did not take place in a single day. The process started when units of the Syrian Army began to defect and adopt a local identity. In some places, officers hailing from a specific village defected and established a local unit. In other places there were units that controlled somewhat larger areas.

"And so, little by little, the Syrian Army collapsed," says Litvin. "The state disintegrated into secondary areas that assumed local tribal identities. From a situation where you dealt with one army marked in red, you suddenly faced 14-15 different colors. It changes your perception and makes it difficult to produce a status picture. The changes took place here during intervals of a week or less. It is a complex scenario for any intelligence collection effort."

In order to provide the surveillance warfighters with the knowledge they required, a need for the sharing of knowledge arose. The solution came from the commander of the IDF 210th Division, who decided to go for more cooperation and less compartmentalization. "The compartmentalization walls here are relatively low between the Battalion and the Brigade and other intelligence services," explains Litvin. "The service