Military Affairs: The IDF's silent attack force

Behind the scenes, the IDF’s electronic warfare capabilities have become a key to battlefield victory, not only against rival militaries, but increasingly against terror organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

IDF cyber warfare room 370 (photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
IDF cyber warfare room 370
(photo credit: Courtesy IDF)
These days, the idea of Israel engaging its enemies in a war, whether in near or distant arenas, without its “silent attack force” is unthinkable.
The silent attackers would be the soldiers of the IDF’s Electronic Warfare (EW) Section, whose mission is to cause rival forces to enter a state perhaps best summed up in the famous Psalms verse: “They have eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear.”
In recent days, a senior source from the Electronic Warfare (EW) Section, a part of the IDF’s teleprocessing corps C4i, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about how far this field has come from its rather humble beginnings.
“It began small, and became large over the past decade. Now, it’s a monster,” the source said, adding that “The government instructed us to prepare and know how to operate EW in every operational arena.
These preparations are approved by IDF General Staff.”
There are two types of standard electronic warfare in most militaries: defensive and offensive. In the IDF, every platform or strategic weapon, like submarines, missiles, and radars, have electronic warfare defenses installed in them.
Offensively speaking, the task of the EW Section is to disrupt enemy communications, blind radars and neutralize explosive devices. The anti-explosives aspect of electronic warfare is run by the Engineering Corps, and the remainder is in the hands of the EW Section.
“Due to the massive rise of wireless communications, terrorist operations now rely heavily on this technology,” the source explained. This includes single-band communications, high-frequency waves, short waves, Wi-Fi, ultra-high frequency and microwaves.
“Offensive EW is a very dynamic world. It’s changing at a crazy pace,” the source said.
In the past, EW was reserved for targeting rival militaries. But now, the IDF must focus most of its EW capabilities against terror organizations on its borders, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, a task made harder by the fact the organizations do not use standard military equipment to communicate.
“Once, two rival militaries would be involved in a communications race. Every five to 10 years, they would revamp their equipment. Today, by the time you get your new devices, the rival is moving on to the next era,” the source explained, spelling out the problems of dealing with non-state actors.
“Hezbollah is very disciplined, and can [change] faster than a military. When Hamas in Gaza want to purchase something, they get it off the shelf. This is a real challenge,” he added.
With terror organizations purchasing communications networks wholesale, the enemy can quickly get the latest available encryption and encoding devices. This has forced the IDF’s EW Section to keep a close eye developments in the civilian communications sector, an area the military calls “technological intelligence.”
Simultaneously, the source said, the IDF developed an electronic warfare doctrine based on a good infrastructure that is adaptable to changes, but without the need to alter the whole system during upgrades.
“This is not a kinetic attack. The mission is not to destroy a target, to damage, or neutralize it, but rather to disrupt. I’m aiming at the enemy’s command and control.
His management, organization and commanders are the target,” the source said.
The desired result is a rival on the battlefield whose commanders cannot speak to field units, and who can’t coordinate or synchronize activities.
“I’m directing EW at the head. This is also a form of psychological warfare. I can engage in this and then deny it. It wrecks the functionality of the enemy,” the source added.
When it comes to discussing actual techniques, the source naturally prefers to keep his cards close to the chest. In some attacks, electromagnetic radiation is beamed directly at the target device. Other forms remain highly classified and cannot be revealed.
“There are no borders in the world of the electromagnetic spectrum. The waves can be sent from all types of platforms, from F- 16 jets to submarines,” the source said.
“And this is happening as the IDF is merging all of its platforms – sea, underwater, land, air and space.”
Despite the impressive technology and skill involved, EW is far from being precise, the source noted.
“The devices don’t always behave the way we’d like. It’s trial and error,” he added.
On occasion, when Israelis experience a rare disruption to their satellite television service, the finger is often pointed at the EW Section. But the source said that more often than not that blame is misplaced.
There are many sources of possible disruptions, such as a foreign military ship cruising nearby on the Mediterranean using disruptive signals.
“We always try to make sure that nothing gets disrupted for civilians. That’s our aspiration.
If sometimes there are disruptions, then [our goal is to assure] it won’t be critical,” the source said. “We are in an ongoing dialogue with the Electric Corporation and Mekorot, the national water carrier, to ensure we are coordinated,” he added.
As the pace of technological development continues to advance, this secretive world will remain critical to Israel’s 21stcentury engagements.