Tracking for Israel's safety
29 June 2010 , 20:50
During the training exercise
Trackers have good intuition. This intuition is the reason for their success, says Mansur. Photo: Sivan Peleg, IDF Spokesperson
Trackers during the training exercise
When the IDF calls us, we answer no matter what says Mansur. Photo: Sivan Peleg, IDF Spokesperson
Bedouin Israelis risk their lives in the northern IDF Tracker Unit to protect the State of Israel from threats at the Lebanese border

Sivan Peleg

The squad is ready. The company commander instructs Master Sergeant Mansur to open the cargo loaded axis. Behind the squad, the Engineering Corps forces who work in cooperation with the Infantry Corps forces are ready. In order to allow the forces to enter, Mansur and his squad must clear the field. The squad is made up of a solder in mandatory service, two soldiers in extended service and Mansur. They all share the common goal of detecting explosives, and are performing a drill together. 

This squad is part of the Tracker Unit of the Galilee Division. They are responsible for opening routes at the Israeli-Lebanese border. They are the first to enter the field; they search the field for any explosives or terrorist groups who may be waiting for their arrival. Until the trackers give the order, no one is allowed to enter the premises. The unit is made up entirely of Bedouin soldiers; some are in mandatory service while others are career soldiers. The unit is currently in the midst of training, which is meant for soldiers to get familiar with new enemy tactics and to get into shape. Also, this is a great opportunity for the unit's soldiers to meet each other before they are deployed to different parts of the border. 

The squad begins to quicken its pace as it enters the field. Each of the soldiers holds a binocular and scans the area for suspicious objects.  In a short time, Mansur discovers the first explosive; he orders the troops to halt and calls the Combat Engineers onto the scene with a CAT D9 armored bulldozer to neutralize the explosive. After the explosive is detonated in a controlled manner, the squad continues the scan. During this exercise, the soldiers are communicating on radios, receiving instructions and information about what is happening in the surrounding area.

Trackers have good intuition. This intuition is the reason for their success, says Mansur. When we first join the army, we are taught what to look for, how explosives look. But most of our success comes from our sixth sense. We come from villages, we live there. We deal with situations that people who live in the city wont be able to cope with. We are known for being a suspicious and curious people; this along with a strong gut feeling helps us become experts at our profession. When new soldiers come for training, they know that one of the first things that they have to do is to come to us, because no one knows the field the way we do.

We have no other country

When the IDF calls us, we answer no matter what says Mansur. This isnt an obvious statement considering that Bedouins are not obligated to join the IDF. The entire Scouts Unit is made up of volunteers. A fact unknown to a lot of people is that the Tracker Unit has lost more soldiers in combat, in proportion, than any other unit in the IDF.

Command Sergeant Major Naim Ali joined the unit in 1993. Three years later, he joined the Nahal Brigade on a mission in Beaufort, Lebanon. While in Beaufort, Ali spotted a group of terrorists. The troops shot and killed two of the armed terrorists and the third terrorist was lightly injured and began to resist arrest. As Ali approached the terror operative, he was shot twice in the stomach. I was in the hospital for a month and in rehabilitation for another eight months. And then I immediately went back to the army.  I knew that the Tracker Unit is an important and crucial part of the army. Its my profession and I love to do it. If we didnt do it no one else would.

Lt. Col. Magdi Mazarib is responsible for all the trackers in the Galilee Divisions. He explains, A tracker has a natural advantage, a different military experience. Some were in Lebanon before the withdrawal; others were there during the Second Lebanon War. They are knowledgeable on how to deal with the enemy to the North. Lt. Col. Mazarib continues to explain that during the Second Lebanon War most of the trackers were not deployed, and one of the lessons learned was that the trackers must function as an essential part of the actual armed forces. Lt. Col. Mazarib says that the veteran trackers feel like they missed out because they weren't in the war, and the younger recruits are full of motivation for the next challenge.

There is a large risk factor in our profession. A lot of trackers die during their service. We take great pride in our fallen soldiers. When we are put to the test, we will never disappoint says Mazarib. During the Palmach days the Bedouins joined forces with Israeli Intelligence.  When the IDF first established the tracker units, many Bedouins joined. They are still loyal soldiers to the IDF. This is our country, we love to wear these IDF uniforms. We look at the draft as a way to belong to the country. There is no stronger bond to the State than to volunteer and serve in the tracker unit.  We have no other country and our loyalty is to the State of Israel he insists.

Tavor for the Trackers

As the squad continues on with the scan it discovers another two explosives. The Combat Engineers dispose of them as well, the area is clear and the drill is now over.  The Deputy Commander of the Galilee Division, Col. Fares Nizam, the Commander of the Baram Brigade, Col. Ronen Marly, and Lt. Col. Mazarib step down from the lookout post to speak with the soldiers. The officers comment on mistakes the soldiers made, ask questions and give encouraging words.

Col. Nizam emphasizes the importance of trackers in the division. In the last few years, the army has undergone a technological revolution. A lot of roles that soldiers had are now being fulfilled by robots, but the job of a tracker cant be done by a robot.

Next month, all the trackers will be receiving the Tavor rifle which was designed in Israel, and the Division is planning to upgrade combat gear and methods in order to better serve the traclers. Baram Brigade Commander Col. Ronen Marly says that The Tracker Squads provide the IDF with an important ability that other militaries in the world do not have. The enemy has improved its methods in the last few years and they are aware today that there is a tracker unit in the IDF, and thus we must face these challenges and keep on improving and learning, ourselves.