They see evidence that’s invisible to the common eye and find terrorists who thought they had escaped without a trace. The Trackers’ Unit is one of the IDF (Zahal)’s most essential assets, and the unique abilities of this unit’s soldiers have been crucial in the execution of various IDF (Zahal) missions.
One year after Operation Protective Edge, the trackers refine their training in preparation for the ever-growing threats posed by Israel’s southern border. In the past two weeks, the trackers participated in an extensive training exercise based on the lessons learned from the operation.
During the exercise, designed to test the trackers’ abilities in dealing with the unique characteristics of the Gaza Regional Division, the soldiers widened their skill set. They learned how to function in complex scenarios, for example pursuing dozens of terrorists who could infiltrate Israeli territory by surprise. This type of manhunt is drastically different from chasing down a lone-wolf terrorist or a single infiltrator.
Throughout the operation, battles took place in urban areas full of booby-trapped houses and alleyways, terror tunnels and weapon storage facilities. The urban setting, in which terror infrastructures are located in the midst of populated residential areas, is immensely challenging to navigate. In the exercise, the division’s trackers simulated fighting in such a setting and addressed one of the major challenges that characterzied last summer’s 50-day operation― the terror tunnels.
The trackers learned how to locate and identify hidden terror tunnels, as well as how to conduct a fight within them. “The ground here is shaky and unpredictable- you could be stepping on it without realizing that a terror tunnel is being dug right underneath your feet. This is the importance of the trackers’ work,” explains Maj. Rabia Suaad, the Gaza Regional Division’s Trackers Commander.
The IDF (Zahal)’s Trackers Unit is comprised of a few hundred combat soldiers, most of whom come from Israel’s Bedouin community and draft into the IDF (Zahal) as volunteers. These soldiers go through a special course that prepares them to become trackers in the most thorough way.
Every operational activity in the Gaza Division requires the preemptive work of a tracker who tests the field to check it for explosive devices, terrorist infiltrations or terror tunnels. Every small change in the territory requires their investigative work. Sometimes they enter the scene only to discover the footsteps of a prepetrating terrorist that has entered Israeli territory. For this reason, it is critical that the trackers lead the force.
The trackers set out on missions every day and in any weather, equipped with weapons, military apparatus and mostly their heightened, sharpened senses. Even in current days of advanced technology, the trackers’ senses are irreplaceable, especially in the battlefield. “I call it a tracker’s sixth sense,” says Maj. Rabia Suaad. “An ordinary person can’t discern between an electric wire lying in a bedroom and one that is connected to an explosive device, but a tracker can and will. The trackers’ intricate work demands the utmost patience, punctuality and precision.”