Amid northern border tensions, IDF observation unit is first defense

With the northern border particularly sensitive, the IDF’s observation unit is the first line of defense against attacks.

A SOLDIER IN the IDF’s electronic observation unit. They can sit for hours monitoring suspicious movement before the order is given to troops to open fire or to pull back.  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
A SOLDIER IN the IDF’s electronic observation unit. They can sit for hours monitoring suspicious movement before the order is given to troops to open fire or to pull back.
It was an explosion that was felt as far away as Cyprus. The blast in Beirut shook Lebanon and led dozens of countries, including Israel, to offer humanitarian aid to the former Paris of the Middle East.
But Israel, which has extensive experience in dealing with such disasters, considers Lebanon an enemy country, and the IDF is still on high alert anticipating an attack by Hezbollah along the northern borders.
It’s been a tense two weeks, after two incidents in less than two weeks on two different borders of Israel’s North were foiled by IDF troops.
It all started after a Hezbollah member was killed with five others when an alleged Israeli airstrike hit targets belonging to the Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias south of Damascus on July 20.
Hezbollah said at the time that a response to the deadly strike was “inevitable,” and tensions began to rise, leading Israel to deploy troop reinforcements, along with advanced intelligence and precision fire systems, to its northern borders and ban military vehicles from driving on roads adjacent to the borders.
But life continued “as normal” for the Golan and Galilee... until a week later, when a group of up to five armed Hezbollah terrorists attempted to infiltrate into Israel, crossing several meters into Israeli territory on Mount Dov, leading IDF troops to fire artillery shells toward the cell, forcing it back into Lebanon without having fired at IDF troops.
The cell had been spotted moving slowly toward Israel by field observers, who kept them under their surveillance for several hours before they crossed into Israel and were engaged by IDF troops.
Though Hezbollah denied the IDF’s account, the military says it has footage of the failed attack from several angles, including showing the cell climbing up Har Dov in the contested Shaba Farms. But the IDF has yet to release the footage and remained on high alert along the northern borders for additional attacks.
One week later, and several dozens of kilometers away on the border with Syria, IDF troops foiled an attempt to place explosive devices along the border fence. The four-member cell was killed by an IDF force on the ground and aircraft.
The action taken against the cell placing the explosives on the border fence was later followed by Israeli airstrikes targeting Syrian regime positions.
“We hit a cell and now we hit the dispatchers,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said. “We will do what is necessary in order to defend ourselves. I suggest to all of them, including Hezbollah, to consider this. These are not vain words; they have the weight of the State of Israel and the IDF behind them, and this should be taken seriously.”
BOTH INFILTRATION attempts were spotted by field intelligence troops who belong to the IDF’s electronic observation unit made up solely of women who spend their days glued to their computer screens watching Israel’s borders.
Like in the two cases, troops can sit for hours monitoring suspicious movement before the order is given to troops to open fire or to pull back.
On the Lebanese front, they watched for hours as the cell slowly crawled through dense foliage before they made their way up the hill and crossed into Israeli territory before fleeing back into Lebanon.
On the Syrian border, troops from the Eagle 595th Battalion first identified suspicious movement of two shepherds around 8 p.m., and around 11 p.m. saw the four-man cell approach the same area and place explosives along the fence before they were killed.
These troops are the eyes of the IDF. The female soldiers in the electronic observation unit must be able to watch and locate any terrorist infiltration, while at the same time alerting troops to the infiltration, and then communicate with them once they are in the field.
They are helped by one of the IDF’s Mars multisensory systems developed by Elbit Systems. The next-generation thermal imager operates using uncooled 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.
Able to see the whole picture with a wide-angle lens, they are in contact with the forces in the field, providing them with the location of the suspect(s) and recommendations that can help determine on whom to open fire and on whom not to.
MAJ. NOAM BOYMAYSTER knows the job well, having served in various roles in the observer unit since 2011. She’s served on the border with both Gaza and the Golan and is now in charge of training new recruits from the moment they are drafted until they are deployed to their border.
“The moment you understand the mission, and you understand that you are looking at the border, and you understand how close the Israeli communities are, you understand the importance of keeping them safe,” she said. “We are protecting the country’s borders.”
When The Jerusalem Post first met Boymayster in 2018, she commanded the troops in the 595th Battalion and during a visit said that after eight years of civil war in Syria, she wanted the residents of the North to feel secure.
“I want the border to be safe and quiet. It doesn’t matter to me who controls the border on the Syrian side. I want to allow our citizens to live their lives in safety,” she said at the time.
Since the Post met with her, the Assad regime has reconquered the area, and Hezbollah has flooded it with its operatives, an area that was once home to various rebel groups.
Boymaster was there when the Assad regime started its offensive to retake southern Syria before she transferred to the Gaza Strip, where she watched over the weekly Gaza border riots and helped troops catch numerous Gazans who tried to infiltrate into southern Israel.
According to Boymayster, while there are different challenges, depending on the border, and depending on the terrain and which terrorist group is involved, the troops become experts of their territory, learning every minute detail of the area and enemy.
“They become experts in their field, they understand and know their area. They have to know their territory in detail and be able to differentiate between day-to-day occurrences and something suspicious,” she said. “I demand that of my soldiers and of myself.”
But just as the IDF’s observers watch the other side in order to stay one step ahead of the next attack, Israel’s enemies are also watching.
So while the devastation in Beirut may have turned Hezbollah’s focus inward, instead of retaliating against Israel, the tensions along the border have yet to dissipate. Though the smoke may be clearing in the Lebanese capital, it’s never over until it’s over between the IDF and Hezbollah.
Until then, the IDF and its field observers will wait, patiently, with their eyes on the border.