Up in the air: Aerial surveillance along the Gaza border

IDF (Zahal) aerial surveillance balloon

Field intelligence has taken to the skies: The IDF (Zahal) Combat Intelligence Corps uses advanced surveillance balloons to gather intelligence near the Gaza border

Date: 07/02/2013, 6:03 PM     Author: Sahar Raz

The Nesher battalion, subordinate to the Southern Command, is responsible for the gathering of combat intelligence. The soldiers in the Nesher battalion perform operational and tactical intelligence collection, helping to identify the location and understand the intentions of terror organizations across the borders.

The Combat Intelligence Corps has significantly upgraded its detection systems in the past few years. The Nesher Battalion has recently integrated new, more advanced methods of intelligence collection, including radar systems, remotely-controlled weapons, and advanced surveillance balloons, which float about 300 meters up in the air and are traditionally equipped with sophisticated cameras, providing a stealthy avenue for determining the position of enemy threats.

Up until the beginning of 2013, the Nesher Battalion was responsible for gathering combat intelligence on all of Israel’s borders contained within the IDF (Zahal)’s Southern Command. In March, the Southern Command appointed the Nesher battalion solely responsible for identifying and containing threats originating from the Gaza border area. 

According to Maj. Shai Barda, deputy commander of the Nesher battalion, the battalion consists of six companies: four operational companies and two border companies (one for Gaza’s southern border and one for its northern border), all of which are responsible for intelligence collection. One of the four operational companies is tasked with the use of the surveillance balloons, which they operate across the Gaza border.

“These balloons have two missions,” Maj. Barda said. “One is to assist the soldiers on the ground in monitoring every visible inch of the borders and the second is to gather long-distance field intelligence that is requested from us.”

Maj. Barda explained that the border area is very active and that there are no shortage of threats to monitor and contain. “We see some kind of activity along the border every day,” he said.

“It’s very unique to serve along the Gaza border,” Maj. Barda said, explaining that in recent years that area has been the focus of high tensions and armed conflict. During Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, use of the advanced surveillance balloons provided highly needed intelligence and tactical assistance to IDF (Zahal) forces in identifying terrorist threats.

Maj. Barda explained that the company responsible for the balloons is unique in that they are required to have training both in observational and combat duties. “They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Apart from days of high wind, the balloons are up in the air day or night, hot or cold,” he said.

“If there is an area that is not visible from the ground, these advanced surveillance balloons can go as high as 300 meters and cover any ground that may be difficult to observe from down below,” he added.

“99% of the year, the balloons spend up in the air,” Maj. Barda concluded.