Elite Force: Israeli soldiers complete a 16-month course to become members of the Nahal Brigade's elite reconnaissance battalion. The IDF's Choshen Brigade provides the communications that link special forces and other military units. (Israel Defense Forces)
TZRIFIN BASE, ISRAEL — Israel’s elite amphibious, airborne and maneuvering units are supported by a single brigade whose conscript force of largely 19-year-old technicians provides the eyes and ears for seasoned warfighters across a spectrum of special operations.
Whether battling close to home or far beyond its borders, the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) Choshen Brigade is the C4I service provider, connecting disparate and highly competitive elite units to one another and to national command headquarters.
With its three specialized battalions, Choshen — the Hebrew name for the biblical breastplate that adorned Israel’s high priests — is the essential component for all IDF operations, from the most mundane to exquisitely complex clandestine missions.
“All communications services that the IDF needs are provided, operated and maintained by Choshen,” said Col. Uri Peretz, the brigade commander.
“We’re involved in all operations of the IDF, no matter how big or how trivial, because we are the ones responsible for moving the data.”
Subordinate to the Lotem Information Technology (IT) Division of IDF General Staff’s C4I Branch, Choshen was stood up in its current, interconnected, fully networked configuration in 2005.
Its three battalions include Tzameret, dedicated to headquarters-level command and control with an airborne component for exceedingly long-distance operations; Amirim, which provides mobile communications for maneuvering forces; and Eitanim, the brigade’s newest battalion, tasked with operating and maintaining Israel’s extensive network of stationary sites.
From Choshen’s network operations center at a base south of Tel Aviv, the brigade enables the transfer of huge volumes of data from cable, wireless and satellite networks through an in-house system tailored to deliver “only the right information to the right users in real time,” Peretz said.
“We used to have stationary communications battalions assigned to specific geographic sectors, which dealt mostly with cable-based voice communications; not too much data,” said Peretz, who a decade ago served as battalion commander for what was then known as the IDF Northern Command’s Stationary Communications Brigade.
But over the past decade, as new C4I networks came online, the brigade has evolved to handle the entire informational spectrum, Peretz said.
“Today, we bring data, pictures, maps and more generated from all means and methods possessed by the IDF. Our data sources span the spectrum from satellites to ground sensors, both stationary and mobile, since our mission requires us to be as robust as possible and not to rely on a single source,” he said.
The brigade’s Amirim mobile communications specialty battalion operates as an integral part of maneuvering forces, transmitting battle orders, targeting information and other data to the Eitanim stationary battalion or — in special mission scenarios — directly to Tzameret, the battalion servicing the high command.
In parallel, Choshen operates a department of cyber defenders working around the clock to protect its systems from enemy attacks.
“Our role is to bring the plasma to the battlefield. ... At the same time, we can’t allow the other side access to this data. It has to be secure,” said the Amirim battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Noam Asido, using the once pejorative term for the digitized data stream.
Asido, a Golani infantry officer, said the IDF has come a long way since the 2006 Lebanon war, when some brigade commanders opted to remain behind in command centers — close to the so-called plasma screens — rather than venture out to personally oversee battles in progress.
“Today, people speak about plasma with pride,” Asido said. “There is no dilemma as to where the commander is. He can be in the front, behind or anywhere he believes he should be, because wherever he is, he’ll get the data he needs in time to take correct decisions.”
Legacy of Long-Range Ops
Lt. Col. Ziv Veinberg commands Tzameret, the oldest of Choshen’s three battalions.
Its origins predate the IDF, when an organization by the same name was deployed in support of underground organizations before the beginning of the state of Israel in 1948.
Over six decades, Tzameret was the channel for communicating Israel’s most momentous military milestones, including the field report for the 1967 Six Day War, when then-Col. Motta Gur announced from East Jerusalem, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
Nine years later, during the Entebbe hostage rescue operation, it was the Tzameret Battalion that maintained radio contact between Gur — by then IDF chief of staff — and the special reconnaissance force operating at the airport in Uganda.
Israeli defense analyst Amir Bohbot claims the 1976 operation remains a long-distance record for Tzameret’s airborne unit, which maintained radio contact over the 3,800 kilometers separating the commando force in Entebbe from Tel Aviv headquarters.
Veinberg declined to comment on the dozens, if not hundreds, of Tzameret-supported long-range special missions conducted since then, many of which have extended beyond the Red Sea into the Horn of Africa.
“Our people have amassed more flight hours than many fighter pilots,” Veinberg said of his battalion’s airborne component.
He declined to identify specific aircraft used for the mission, but noted that the small, Israel Air Force-operated transports deploy at least two of his communications specialists — usually young female conscripts — trained to operate and maintain airborne communications links.
Veinberg credited Tirat Ha’agam (Castle of the Lake), a secure C4I broadcast system developed by the C4I Branch’s Lotem IT Division IN and Tel Aviv-based Ness TSG, for nearly seamless connectivity between warriors in the field and national command authorities.
“This system links all of us — Air Force, Navy, ground forces, intelligence, you name it,” he said. “It synthesizes and prioritizes information. It allows commanders to see the complete picture and receive the information they need in real time, which allows them to arrive at optimal decisions.”
Lt. Col. Yossi Karadi commands Eitanim, the newest battalion of the Choshen brigade. It is responsible for hundreds of stationary sites of various sizes, from Mount Hermon in the northern Golan Heights down to the Red Sea port town of Eilat, bordering Sinai and Jordan.
Karadi, an armored forces officer, said his battalion functions similarly to individual tanks, with each crew member performing a specific function, the combination of which can sufficiently defend a given sector.
“Our job is to connect the [local area network] to the [wide area network],” Karadi said. “In the end, we get to every point throughout the IDF.”
All IDF field units are connected through the battalion, which in turn transfers the links to national command authorities.
While his battalion is based in the rear, Karadi has representatives in each of Israel’s territorial commands coordinating the digital data flow with warfighters on the move.
As with the Amirim and Tzameret battalions, most of the operators and technicians ensuring connectivity are 19-year-old female conscripts certified for round-the-clock operations after a short four-month training course.
Reserve Maj. Gen. Ami Shafran, a former commander of the IDF’s C4I Branch, said few units in the IDF play such a central, all-encompassing role in routine, wartime and special operations missions.
“Simply put, without Choshen, the IDF cannot function,” he said. “From the cables underground to the satellites in space and virtually everything in between, there’s no unit so broadly spread and so cardinal to our nation’s defense. And the amazing thing is that they are able to do it with 19- and 20-year-old soldiers.”