The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion (Hebrew: “Gadsar”) is unique in many regards. It’s comprised almost entirely of Bedouin soldiers and stationed near the Gaza Strip, where its soldiers use their unique skills to track terrorists and thwart infiltration attempts into Israel. How? They use their special tracking skills – abilities that would take years to learn for a soldier who didn’t grow up in the Bedouin lifestyle.
Years of living in sparsely populated desert areas and spending lots of time outdoors taught the soldiers of the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion how to be an Israeli Sherlock Holmes. They can spot a single footprint in the sand and learn volumes from it – who, what, where and whether it’s a security threat or not. In Hebrew they’re unofficially called ‘gashashim’, – ‘trackers’, or literally, ‘feelers’.
The battalion was founded in 1987 especially to accommodate the needs of the Bedouin soldier in order to encourage more Bedouins to join the IDF. Most of the commanders are Bedouins, in the interest of helping the soldiers, most of who come from families not familiar with the army, get used to their military surroundings.
Bedouin are not obligated to serve in the IDF – all the soldiers of the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion volunteered for service. They risk their lives daily while guarding around the Gaza Strip, often patrolling areas adjacent to their home towns.
Major Rabiye Souad, commander of the Desert Reconnaissance trackers of the Southern Gaza Regional Brigade, explains:
“The secrets and tricks to tracking have been passed from father to son.”
A taste of their routine? Live ammunition fire, violent riots, IEDs, terrorist smuggling tunnels and even search and rescue operations. Only yesterday they tracked down a drug smuggler attempting to deliver 45 kilograms of drugs into Israel.
“These inherent skills stem from the ways in which the nomadic tribes would track lost or stolen sheep. Living conditions in and adaptation to the desert Bedouin lifestyle requires a sixth sense.”
In its 25 years of existence, the battalion was granted two medals for its outstanding performance during operational activities, and suffered a major loss when five of its members were killed while foiling terror activity near Rafah in 2004.