Israel Arms With iPads to Face Increasingly Complex Battlefield

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Smoke after Israeli attacks in Gaza City, Gaza on August 9, 2014.

Photographer: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

During Israel’s seven-week Gaza Strip war with Hamas last year, company commanders were just as likely to be holding an iPad as an M-16, as the mobile wireless device took on an unprecedentedly critical role.

It was the first war in which a fully integrated network allowed all branches of Israel’s armed services to deliver and simultaneously see information about militants’ movements, rigged homes and the location of friendly forces.

“We took all the battlefields and made sure whoever was fighting -- the navy, the air force, ground forces and intelligence -- were all seeing the same picture at the same time,” said Col. Yariv Nir, head of the military department that develops and defends information systems.

Israel has been speeding up its development of cyber security in both the military and civilian domain in recent years. Soldiers responsible for the virtual battlefield are being moved to the southern city of Beersheba, where the government is establishing a cyber technology hub designed to become a key front in the world’s escalating cyber conflicts.

During the fighting last summer that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, a military observation team detected Palestinians infiltrating southern Israel from the sea and uploaded a live feed to the network. The footage, accessible to the air force operating an armed drone above the site, navy boats and ground forces, allowed commanders to make a uniquely coordinated response, Nir said.

Simplify Power

IPads with specialized icons were mobilized to alert soldiers to the location of Palestinian rocket squads and other dangers to Israeli troops, he said. Israeli troops demolished thousands of Palestinian homes in the fighting, and more than 4,500 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel.

“The smart use of technology in military operations can turn the unpredictable into the predictable,” said Paul de Souza, founder of the Cyber Security Forum Initiative, a U.S.- based consultancy based in Washington, D.C.

“Israel is one of the most creative nations in the world using cyber capabilities to simplify combat power and to achieve superiority in the battlefield,” de Souza said.

A United Nations panel investigating the conflict found evidence suggesting both sides committed war crimes.

Running on radio frequency, the integrated network is designed to replace the legacy map-and-markers necessary to plan and execute an attack by connecting “sensor to shooter,” Nir said.

Civilian Application

The network has already been applied beyond its security detail. Israeli surgeons operating at a field hospital in Nepal after the 7.3-magnitude quake in May used the network to consult real-time with specialists back home. Rescue teams also used it to coordinate the evacuation of stranded Israelis, Nir said.

With the technological advance comes the challenge of cyber defense. Attempts to assault Israel in cyber space during the Gaza war rose to as many as 2 million a day, according to Yitzhak Ben-Israel, who helped establish Israel’s National Cyber Bureau.

Reorganization of all cyber units under one command, as ordered by the chief of staff last month, will help forces to buttress themselves against assaults on the network, Nir said.

It wasn’t foolproof. The network was sometimes slow and at times intelligence was lacking. Halfway through the war, three soldiers died entering a home rigged with explosives.

“We always need to think how to we can improve our defense,” Nir said.