Security and Defense: Beduin trackers, always out in front

The IDF’s Beduin trackers provide the ‘Post’ with a glimpse into their risk-fraught, life-saving missions.

An IDF Beduin tracker on patrol. Unlike other minorities that serve in the army, for Beduin, service is on a volunteer basis. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
An IDF Beduin tracker on patrol. Unlike other minorities that serve in the army, for Beduin, service is on a volunteer basis.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
A dangerous and essential role is uniquely filled by Beduin, who serve as IDF trackers on every border and across the West Bank.
This month, the trackers received recruits from across the country during the November draft cycle, and senior Beduin trackers provided The Jerusalem Post with an inside glimpse into life as a tracker on the front lines of Israel’s security.
Senior Warrant Officer Salah Mawasi, head of the Tracker’s Training Branch at the Central Command’s training center in Lachish, said the task of his school is to fine-tune the inherent skills that enable soldiers to notice when something unnatural has disturbed the ground.
“Certainly, we [Beduin] have the tools. I teach them how to detect footprints, and engage in pursuits; we hold exercises to train in detecting changes on the ground. We must maintain a sharp eye and spot the smallest changes in the dirt, to notice any disturbed weeds or a rock out of place,” he said.
“We always train in accordance with the changing security reality. We do not freeze on the spot and train for old threats,” the officer added.
Adapting to current threats has involved an increased emphasis on training in tunnel detection.
“It’s not new but now, we spend many more hours in training on this,” said Mawasi. “We have to be able to detect explosives. We study in accordance with the developments in a given sector.”
Senior trackers also come to the training center for refresher courses, aimed at maintaining their readiness.
Unlike member of other minorities serving in the IDF, like Druse and Circassians, Beduin volunteer for military service.
“Usually, Beduin trackers have low figures on education,” explained Mawasi. “Many Beduin join this unit because they have a sense that they can develop here, and learn the trade. Beduin have excelled in tracking since the days of the Palmah in 1947.
Some want to be trackers because their fathers and grandfathers did it; family and tribal links are still a significant influence.
“The numbers of recruits rise and fall because this is voluntary. Receiving a call-up is not the final stage; only when they arrive at the IDF reception and sorting base, and receive a uniform, do they become soldiers.
“That’s why I was at the base this morning, personally receiving the volunteers and offering advice, encouragement and information. I spoke to them as a father.”
“We had one recruit who was a married 28-yearold,” Mawasi recalled. “He arrived, accompanied by his wife. It was very emotional, seeing him board the bus that took him to the absorption base.”
Part of the IDF’s efforts to secure volunteers each year include talks to students at schools, and their parents.
“Our center is the only one that trains trackers.
I’m one of the people who set it up in 1997. Our mission is to turn civilians into combat soldiers, giving them infantry rifle skills; then they begin a tracking course lasting several weeks,” he said.
“First they are combat soldiers, and only then trackers. They’ll learn about fallen members of the unit, and take part in a completion ceremony.”
St.-Sgt. Maj. Bassel Diav is a senior tracker in the Samaria regional brigade, based around Nablus. On a daily basis, he said, his unit clears roads, defends Israeli communities and most importantly, ensures the area is free from bombs planted by terrorists.
“We take the threat of explosives seriously,” said Diav. “We also take part in responses to general security incidents, like riot dispersal. We are combat soldiers first.”
In recent months, there has been no rise or drop in the number of explosive devices planted in the area, he said, noting that “the rate has been constant.”
“After rioters throw a Molotov cocktail, I can tell you which direction it came from, and how many people were involved. We then take part in the pursuit,” he said.
Unlike border regions, Samaria is considered a “depth sector” by the IDF – meaning there is no defined front line that has to be guarded, and no zone where cross-border trespassers can be detected.
“We get a lot of information from civilian reports.
It’s a complex and very challenging sector,” said the officer.
“When the IDF announces it uncovered an explosive, that’s usually us. We have uncovered many in recent days. Our professionalism comes from the length of time we’ve been deployed here – over 10 years. It means we are very serious about our work,” he added.
On any given day, terrorists may try to plant explosives and camouflage them into the local surroundings.
When that happens, Diav and his unit are in a race against time to locate the threats.
“We hold drills to learn how to overcome techniques to hide the bombs. We learn how to deal with remote control bombs, and study past incidents.
The trackers are always leading the force; we are always in danger. At nights, it’s just us, with the flashlights,” said Diav.
Asked what his message is to the latest round of volunteers, the officer said, “Use us, the veteran trackers, and milk us for information. The new generation relies on hi-tech and computers, but we can teach them things based on years of experience, about how terrorists attempt to deceive us. They can learn from us.
“Finishing basic training does not mean they finished training. I’ve been in this role for 15 years, and I’m still learning.”