The most visible sign of the largest unit in the IDF is a series of giant golf-ball-shaped antennae. These can be seen from the main coastal road north of Tel Aviv and in similar, more remote, spots across the country.
Almost every other detail regarding Unit 8200, however, including the name of its commander, Brigadier General A, are not to be published in Israeli media.
Unit 8200 is usually mentioned nowadays in connection with former officers who have gone on to found successful technology start-ups. In recent days, however, the unit has shot to prominence, at least in US and German newspapers. Some media outlets have claimed that it was 8200 that, having recorded conversations between senior Syrian officers, supplied a key part of the proof that the Assad regime had indeed carried out a chemical weapons attack in Damascus two weeks ago.
Since its foundation in 1952, the unit’s key task has been to listen in on enemy communications, often using hidden devices planted far from Israel’s borders in commando incursions.
While in Britain and the US the main agencies involved in collecting electronic or signals intelligence (SIGINT), GCHQ and the NSA, are separate civilian organisations, in Israel SIGINT remains part of the military. This enables the unit to choose from the brightest young men and women inducted to the IDF at the age of 18. “The ingenuity and capabilities are almost unbelievable considering some are 20 years old,” said a former officer. “Sometimes you dream about something fantastic and get up in the morning and do it at work.”