Thursday, July 18, 2013

The IDF’s Night’s Watch: Israel’s Eyes in the North

Israel Defense Forces
When terrorists from Lebanon raided the Israeli northern coastal city of Nahariya, Cpl. Rotem Saidon’s relatives were among the victims. This dark chapter in her family’s history has given Saidon, a soldier in the Israeli Navy, an incomparable perspective of what it means to defend Israel from attack by sea.

It is often said that every Israeli citizen knows someone who was killed or injured in battle or a terror attack. That is why for many Israelis, defending their homeland is not just a national imperative – it is a personal obligation. So it is for Cpl. Rotem Saidon, a Command and Control Center operator in the Israeli Navy.

With 70 percent of the state’s eight million citizens settled in the country’s narrow coastal plain, the Israeli Navy bears an immense responsibility for national security. Especially on Israel’s sensitive northern border with Lebanon – which extends many kilometers into the sea – the work of the naval soldiers who monitor the waters from the IDF’s command and control center is truly vital to the nation’s defense.

 Working long shifts in the Command and Control Center at Rosh Hanikra – wedged between Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea – Cpl. Saidon, 19, and her fellow soldiers keep trained eyes on the sophisticated surveillance systems monitoring the sea.
“We watch the maritime border in every way possible, using radars and cameras,” she said. “We control everything attempting to enter Israeli territory. In effect we guard the whole region – including [major population centers] Nahariya and Acre, so there won’t be a hostile infiltration through the water. That’s really the definition of our task: to protect the citizens and to prevent an infiltration at sea.”
Cpl. Rotem Saidon, Israeli Navy
Cpl. Rotem Saidon, Israeli Navy
And according to Cpl. Saidon, keeping watch is no idle task. “Things happen all the time, and we are here to prevent them,” she said. “If there is an attempt to infiltrate we mobilize naval forces and all the IDF forces that we work with.”
With its regional stronghold firmly encamped on the other side of the border, the terrorist organization Hezbollah never ceases in its efforts to infiltrate into Israel to perpetrate attacks and to smuggle weapons to other organizations bent on Israel’s destruction.
In 2009, the IDF intercepted the MV Francop and seized some 500 tons of weapons found on board, which were destined for use by Hezbollah against Israeli civilians. In 2001, the Navy intercepted and boarded the Santorini – a fishing boat that had sailed from Beirut in Lebanon towards Israel. On board, naval commandos discovered a large cache of concealed weapons including missiles, rockets, mortars and rifles. Also discovered were instruction manuals for the manufacturing of explosives.
Iranian Weaponry Aboard Francop
Weapons found on board the Francop
In April of this year, a hostile drone (unmanned aircraft) was launched from beyond Israel’s northern border and began to approach the coast at the port city of Haifa. The craft’s entire flight path was tracked by IDF surveillance teams and an Air Force fighter jet was sent to shoot it down safely, over the water.

National imperative, personal obligation

Cpl. Saidon knows better than most how crucial her duty is in keeping Israelis safe. She is related to the Haran family – torn apart by a 1979 terror attack in their hometown of Nahariya. In that incident, a terror squad consisting of four members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) left Lebanon in a rubber dinghy, sneaking on to the coast of Nahariya in the dark of night. Their raid on the coastal city left four Israelis dead, including Danny Haran and his daughters Einat, four and Yael, two.
Cpl. Saidon’s sister is married to one of the victim’s nephews, and so the Saidon family knows from up close what it means to see a family shattered by terror.
“It makes me understand that if we are not here to keep watch then whole families could be destroyed,” Saidon says. “We are the ones who protect the residents of Nahariya. Especially for me here at Rosh Hanikra when the location of the [1979] attack is a place that I see in front of my eyes. It makes me think about what happens when the Command and Control Center isn’t being operated properly to protect all the people who live here and how it is that in seconds a family can be torn apart like its nothing.”

No simple task

The challenges of Cpl. Saidon’s task are many, but she knows that relentless vigilance is a price worth paying to defend her country and its people. The small group of soldiers on her base are there 24 hours-a-day, sharing shifts operating the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, which the navy uses to track all movement above and below the surface.
Cpl. Saidon pointed out with a smile that she is at home less than her boyfriend, a combat soldier in the Golani Infantry Brigade.
“Its hard work and its exhausting, but we know that ours is a task that is awfully important and meaningful – if we don’t do it then all the citizens who live here would be in danger,” she said. “With time we understand that it is so important that even with the difficulties, we must remain constantly alert and be 100 percent focused.”
Cpl. Saidon’s skill and determination have not gone overlooked, and last week she began her journey to become an officer in the Israeli Navy.

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