Meet the IDF unit that is the eyes and ears of Operation Northern Shield

Senior officer: "From the first night of the operation, we have been a part of it and we will remain part of it until it’s over, and even after it."

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December 23, 2018 19:58
3 minute read.
THE IDF’s 869th Shahaf (Seagull) Field Intelligence Battalion

THE IDF’s 869th Shahaf (Seagull) Field Intelligence Battalion are the eyes and ears of the troops on the Lebanese front. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

 
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As Israel’s Operation Northern Shield continues into its third week, the IDF’s 869th Shahaf (Seagull) Field Intelligence Battalion are the eyes and ears of the troops in the field.

“We are in charge of identifying and stopping enemy moves,” Lt.-Col. Tomer Meltzman told The Jerusalem Post. “We are the taking the eyes in the field and expanding it, looking across the border to make sure that no enemy targets our troops and, if we identify a threat, to stop it.”

While the IDF has various surveillance and intelligence gathering techniques nothing can replace the IDF field intelligence battalion unit made up of female observers and male combat troops who spend all day, every day watching Lebanon.

The IDF launched Operation Northern Shield in order to detect and destroy cross-border attack tunnels dug by the Iranian-backed Shi’ite organization. Israel believes that the tunnels would have been used by the Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit to infiltrate into Israel in an attempt to take control of several communities and kill as many civilians and troops as possible.

A number of Hezbollah tunnels are believed to have been dug along the 130-km.-long border between the two countries, and the military said the operation dubbed “Northern Shield” would take weeks or months to complete.

“From the first night of the operation, we have been a part of it and we will remain part of it until it’s over, and even after it,” Metzman told the Post, adding that “The soldiers were surprised about the tunnels on the northern border. We kept it a secret. But we have trained the soldiers to deal with surprises. We always have to expect the unexpected.”

The precious intelligence gathered by the battalion is not only crucial in the operation, but according to the IDF, Israel’s intelligence capabilities has increased dramatically since the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and has a significant number of targets in the north if another war were to break out.

Gathering intelligence in the field is always a challenge, especially when Hezbollah militants do not wear military uniforms or openly carry weapons because of Resolution 1701 which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The group also plants themselves in the middle of civilian areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that almost every second home in Southern Lebanon is being used by the Shi’ite militant group.

“It’s an organization which has been growing over the years, and we have been watching them and we have stopped them many times in the past few years,” Meltzman said, referring to the group’s fictitious environmental group known as “Green Without Borders.”

According to Meltzman, the battalion has also observed Lebanese troops, including intelligence officers, meeting with Hezbollah militants numerous times.

“The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Lebanese government is responsible for what is happening. While the LAF is not part of Hezbollah, the LAF should stop Hezbollah’s activities in south Lebanon, Hezbollah should not exist,” Meltzman said.

Early on in the operation, the IDF fired warning shots at three Hezbollah militants dressed in civilian clothes attempting to approach the border area where the IDF was carrying out tunnel excavation work. According to the military the three men – who fled back to Lebanon after IDF troops opened fire – took advantage of bad weather to steal IDF equipment deployed to uncover the tunnels.
Lebanon meanwhile said that IDF troops opened fire on a “Lebanese army patrol near the Blue Line in the Kroum al-Sharaqi region east of the village of Meis al-Jabal “because of heavy fog in the area.”

But, Meltzman said “the battalion lives the Lebanon border day in and out. We know people across the border and their faces. We know how to differentiate between Hezbollah and Lebanese armed forces.”

The female soldiers in unit monitor the feeds of remote controlled cameras set up along the border and locate any terrorist infiltration while at the same time alerting troops in the field and communicate with them to remove any threat. The unit’s male soldiers spent hours in the field every week, working quietly to set up forward camouflaged posts to watch the enemy across the border.

The battalion is also helped by the IDF’s “Mars” multi-sensory system developed by Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The next-generation thermal imager operates using un-cooled sensor technology and combines a laser range-finder, GPS, compass, day channel and recording system. Due to its advanced observation and target acquisition capabilities as well as being a lightweight system, MARS is especially suited for the infantry and special units.

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