Sky eyes: Spy balloons give Israel intelligence edge in West Bank
The West Bank has suffered from violence in recent weeks after Israel imposed entry restrictions on the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. The aerostats, which have previously been deployed in Gaza, will give security forces a better idea of what is happening on the ground.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) October 30, 2014
The inflatable devices have certainly won the backing of the Israeli army, which has praised the innovation for providing them with up-to-date visual intelligence. The balloons can be used to pinpoint large gatherings, which could potentially develop into a riot. With this information, the security forces already have a good idea about the size and seriousness of the potential situation they are dealing with.
“It can be deployed at any location and controlled remotely, and its main advantage is its high mobility,” said Lt. A, who withheld his name when speaking to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) website. “The balloon can be at a certain point, and then, according to a reading [of visual intelligence], it can move to another location in a short period of time,” he added.
The surveillance balloon provides quality collection in real time, courtesy of advanced tracking tools. Its designers are now trying to get the aerostat to send the data it broadcasts directly to unit headquarters, as well as units operating in the field. They can also stay airborne for long periods of time, as they do not need to be refueled.
One of the main advantages of the balloons is the range of visibility they can provide. Balloon Company Commander Lt. Orel described how effective they proved to be during Israel’s incursion into Gaza over the summer, saying, “The enemy has no idea how much we can see.”
“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,” he said, as reported on the IDF site.
The devices were developed by Israeli-based defense company RT, and are used by the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Unit. The balloons can rise hundreds of meters into the sky and are attached to the ground by a cable, which is able to transmit power and the surveillance data.
The vast majority of the balloon operators are women. Thirteen aerostats were deployed during Operation Protective Edge over the summer, while none have been lost while carrying out their missions.
Aside from providing intelligence into Palestinian activities in Gaza, the balloons also have an important role in helping to protect IDF personnel on the ground.
“Our mission was to detect terrorists in the battle zones, thwarting potential attacks on our soldiers,” Orel added.