Protecting from Above: IDF’s Unique Intelligence Gathering Balloons

One of the IDF (Zahal)’s most advanced techniques for gathering intelligence uses an extremely simple apparatus – the balloon. The Field Intelligence Corps uses these balloons for gathering information and tracking terror activities in real-time. The soldiers operating this equipment proved invaluable during Operation Protective Edge.

The IDF (Zahal)’s Field Intelligence Corps is responsible for gathering intelligence and recognizing threats on the ground. One of their most advanced tools are the aerial balloons that roam the skies above enemy territory. The Balloon Company uses these high-tech balloons to gather intelligence and patrol the borders.

“The enemy has no idea how much we can see.”

The balloons are equipped with advanced tracking tools, and supply the IDF (Zahal) with a crucial perspective into enemy activities. Lt. Orel, the Balloon Company Commander, explains their capabilities.

“We have the ability to look into the furthest and smallest structures in Gaza. We can detect terrorists and the weapons they’re carrying. The enemy has no idea how much we can see.”

What really makes the balloons stand out is their ability to stay in the sky for long periods of time. They don’t require constant refueling like aircraft do, and therefore are able to supply a constant source of intelligence on a target or a suspected area.

Protecting from Above: IDF’s Unique Intelligence Gathering Balloons

“I know Shuja’iya better than the palm of my hand”

The balloon’s unique abilities and state of the art technologies require well trained operators and observers, most of which are female soldiers like Sgt. (res.) Gabriel. “Being a balloon observer demands a lot of skill and determination,” she explains as she details her duty as an observer in the Balloon Company.

“Within a small amount of time II need to be able to cover a very large area and be familiar with every small detail inside of it; I must constantly supply the most up-to-date information. I know Shuja’iya better than the palm of my hand. It’s a level of knowledge that no one can argue with, and it’s a huge responsibility.”

“If hadn’t detected the terrorists, they would have surprised our forces on the ground.”

During the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge, the balloons had an important role in protecting IDF (Zahal) forces on the ground. “Our mission was to detect terrorists in the battle zones, thwarting potential attacks on our soldiers,” described Lt. Orel.

Sgt. Gabriel was the first line of defense against one of these attacks during the operation:

“While I was observing the area, I suddenly spotted three suspicious moving dots. I zoomed in, and realized those dots were people. They were running in and out of a structure, while looking at our soldiers. I didn’t know what they were planning, but It was clear they weren’t civilians, and I knew I had to tell our forces about them. We fired at them, and they fired back at our tanks. The terrorists were quickly eliminated.

Those terrorists were so close to our troops, I don’t want to imagine what could have happened. If hadn’t detected the terrorists, they could have surprised our forces on the ground.”