Hidden in the shadows, with eyes like hawks, IDF (Zahal) snipers can spend hours watching the enemy. They must often make life-or-death decisions, especially when confronting a terrorist who seeks to attack Israeli civilians.
Late one night in 2007, IDF (Zahal) snipers set up a camouflaged position near the Gaza border. Moments later, five Hamas terrorists and their commander came into view. The soldiers immediately opened fire, striking the enemy forces before they had a chance to fire back. The IDF (Zahal)’s “Hawk” snipers are always prepared to carry out missions like this one. Their pinpoint accuracy can stop a terrorist’s attack or prevent his advance into Israel’s territory.
In a recent “Hawk” exercise, members of the team competed to see who could strike practice targets with the highest accuracy. The soldiers worked in pairs consisting of a sniper and an observer. Observers analyzed distance, weather conditions and wind speed, and then transmitted this information to the snipers. Although the targets were too far away to be seen by the naked eye, distance was no obstacle for these soldiers. “There’s a target at one o’clock; do you see it?” one observer asked his teammate, indicating a target 900 meters away. The sniper confirmed, held his breath and shot.
“If the sniper misses his target, the observer makes adjustments right away and gives the sniper new data,” explained Lieutenant Rotem, commander of the Hawks. The soldiers go through 14 months of intensive training to become Hawks. Their training is the same as that of reconnaissance battalion soldiers, “but a little more difficult,” Lt. Rotem explained. “They carry weights that are 60 percent – sometimes even 90 percent – of their body mass. It’s incredibly hard when you have to do that for 30 kilometers (18.6 mi.).”
During training, soldiers learn how to work independently. “By the end, they can perform special missions and reach targets more than a mile away. This is what distinguishes us from others: the ability to act alone in enemy territory,” the commander added.
“It’s never easy and it requires self-confidence,” he continued. “Another quality that we develop is the ability to locate [enemy] snipers. We must be able to imagine what the other sniper would do, get into position and think like the enemy. We also teach soldiers to pay attention to small details and track a target. Nothing goes unnoticed.”
The snipers work under enormous pressure. They must often make difficult life-or-death decisions, especially when confronted by a terrorist whose goal is to attack Israeli civilians. “Once the target is in view, everything happens quickly. You must have a clear frame of mind when you point the gun,” Lt. Rotem said. “Once the mission has been completed, there is a mixed feeling of accomplishment and the knowledge that you just took a human life. You saw it up close. It is not easy to accept. I stand by what I do, though, because these people were aiming at me, my friends and the people of Israel.”
The snipers must be prepared to strike at any moment. “Sometimes you can be focused for two hours and nothing happens. Then, the target comes and you have two seconds to focus. If you close your eyes or are not vigilant enough, you lose the target. One second. That’s all the time it takes.”
Lt. Rotem tries his best to impart his experience to new recruits. His team leads all reconnaissance battalion activities. Snipers and observers direct the troops on the ground because of the valuable intelligence data they have. “We also know how to direct helicopters or artillery because of our intelligence.”
Staff Sergeant Itamar, another member of the Hawk team, is always looking for new ways to improve the squad. “At the operational level, we are one of the most important squads in the battalion,” he said. “We learn something new in every operation. Though our squad is small, it is filled with big thinkers.”
Asked whether these soldiers are ready for the challenges that could arise in the south and the north of Israel, Staff Sergeant Daniel, another corporal team leader, replied: “Of course we’re ready. Without a doubt.” Carrying all of their heavy gear, panting and sweating, the snipers disappear into the field.
This article was originally posted in Herbew on Pazam