Israel's eye in the sky

On July 12, the first night of the Second Lebanon War, IAF fighter jets bombed 94 targets throughout Lebanon in a mere 34 minutes, essentially destroying Hizbullah's long-range rocket array, not a single one of which was fired at Israel during the 33-day conflict. The rockets were kept inside the homes of senior Hizbullah officials and close confidants of the guerrilla group. According to some reports, the Israeli intelligence community was responsible for obtaining the intelligence on the location of the rockets, which included the Iranian-made Fajr and Zelzal models. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz recently told The Jerusalem Post that it took the defense establishment a number of years to gather the intelligence and locate all of the rockets. But almost a year after the eruption of the war with Hizbullah - now said to be back at its former strength and to have rebuilt its long-range missile array - the IDF, together with the Israeli intelligence community, is once again working to locate and track the flow of arms to the guerrilla group. The last place you'd expect there to be intelligence work going on is Sde Dov Airport. A civilian and military airfield, Sde Dov's runway is used mostly by Arkia flights to Eilat and helicopters that transport government officials and IDF officers to meetings . But inside the calm-looking seaside base in northern Tel Aviv is the headquarters of Squadron 100. Historically the first IAF squadron, Squadron 100 was established in February 1947, when it flew aircraft it inherited from the Hagana. Today, the squadron - commanded by Lt.-Col. M., the son of South African parents - flies two relatively small aircraft: the Beechcraft Kingair B200, called the Zufit, and the Beechcraft Bonanza, called the Hufit. Both planes are used to gather intelligence, and since the Lebanon war as well as in face of the growing tension with Syria, most of their activity has been on the northern front. The Zufit is a reconnaissance aircraft equipped with a specially designed camera system that allows it to gather intelligence and take pictures from a standoff position, meaning that the plane can hover within Israeli airspace but track and take pictures of targets on the other side of a border. "Our job is to ensure that when the day comes, we will be ready," explains Lt.-Col. M. Squadron 100's job is vital for the defense establishment these days. Alongside the IAF's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the squadron flies over Lebanon almost daily to keep an eye on Hizbullah. With weapons flowing freely and undisturbed across the Syrian-Lebanese border on their way to the guerrilla group, it is Squadron 100's job to spot the smugglers. When the next war erupts, it will be vital in thwarting attacks against Israel. During the war, Lt.-Col. M. and his men clocked in 3,500 flight hours - the amount usually flown in half a year - and spent most of their time tracking rocket launchers. The squadron played a key role in locating the long-range rocket launchers spread out in northern Lebanon. The Beechcraft are small planes that just barely fit the five-man crew, which consists of two pilots, two scouts and the mission commander. The scouts, who sit in front of two big computer consoles in the back of the plane, are responsible for locating the mission's targets and tracking them with the cameras and sensors. The pilot's job, no less important, is to keep the plane on course and give the scouts the best-possible view of their target. The Second Lebanon war granted Squadron 100's scouts and pilots a new perspective on the importance of their job. "I am happy each time I see Hizbullah rearming," said Lt. T., a scout with the squadron. "It is better to see it happening than not to see it happening. This way we will be better prepared next time."