Three months after the recent Gaza war, Hamas is still assessing the damage it sustained, the commander of a key IDF tactical drone unit told The Jerusalem Post this week.Capt. Nir (full name withheld), who leads a Sky Rider drone company in the Artillery Corps, said Hamas is still “attempting to rehabilitate its military hierarchy. They are looking around, still trying to figure out what happened.“We deal with trying to understand the other side from above.My crews fly drones over Gaza, where they see reconstruction efforts. These won’t be complete in a year, or two years, in light of all the damage sustained,” Nir said.The drone – the only unmanned aerial platform operated by the ground forces – provides high-quality images from an electro-optic camera, as well as images from a heat-sensitive infrared camera during nighttime intelligence missions.It is launched from a sling, and, as it gains altitude, quickly becomes inaudible and invisible thanks to its electrical engine and small size. When the time comes to land, the drone reduces its altitude, inflates an air bag, and drops to the ground.During routine security operations, Sky Rider crews provide real-time aerial visual intelligence.They support ground forces on all of Israel’s borders, and in the West Bank.“We work in all of the sectors,” Nir said. On borders where heavily armed terrorist groups are preparing for clashes with Israel, “We assist in the build-up of intelligence, for the next war,” the officer added.When Gazans try to infiltrate Israel, Sky Rider drones are often scrambled. “The infiltrators are not always terrorists.Some can be displaced people whose homes have been destroyed [in the recent conflict with Hamas],” Nir said.“In Judea and Samaria, our activity is very different. We assist in arrests of security suspects, and link up to ground crews who are carrying out arrests,” he added.“We provide an envelope of visual intelligence to our forces entering Palestinian areas. We know every shrub in these areas.In my sleep, I can tell you where everything is in a given sector.Every night, we are active over a different place. We have to study each area from scratch – this is challenging, and requires lots of awareness, energy, and the ability to learn quickly.”The information the unit sends to commanders lets them know whether the approach of soldiers has awoken a Palestinian village, and “what the enemy is preparing around the corner, and over the next hilltop.We guard our friends down below, preventing tragedies,” he said.“What’s nice about the platform is that it is operated by four people, who can deal with almost any weather condition, and take off and land almost anywhere,” Nir said.During violent disturbances, the intelligence the drone company broadcasts enables the IDF to prevent harm to noncombatants, he said.When there is a riot in Judea and Samaria, the drone’s sensors help the IDF identify elderly women and small children caught up in incidents, and direct soldiers away from them, toward those engaging in disturbances.Looking ahead, there are plans to upgrade the platform, in the near and the more distant future, though these plans remain classified. “The upgrades will change things significantly,” Nir said.