By Ami Dor-On
“8200” is a SIGINT and decryption unit operating within the IDF’s Intelligence Division. The unit is formally referred to as 8200 or “the central intelligence gathering unit”. Thousands of military personnel and civilians serve in 8200, which is cosidered to be the largest unit in the IDF. The unit’s commanders hold the rank of Brigadier General and their identity is kept secret. According to various foreign media sources, including one published on September 5th 2010 in the French La Monde Diplomatique, the unit operates out of several intelligence gathering bases, the most famous of which is located on top of Mount Hermon. The unit’s central base – headquarters and tech center – is located in Glilot, north of Tel Aviv. Another base is located next to kibbutz Urim in the Negev, considered to be one of the largest intelligence bases in the world.
According to the La Monde publication around 30 sattelite dishes of various types are located in the Urim base, used to intercept phone calls and e-mails of “governments, international organizations, foreign companies, political groups and private individuals.” According to that same article, one of the Urim base’s main goals is to listen in on phone calls and e-mail conversation in different languages, including Arabic, Farsi and others. In addition, the base acts as a “center for a spy network that has access to data transmitted through underwater cables, including those connecting Israel with Europe across the Mediterranean.” According to the La Monde article the Urim base intercepts communications across entire geographical regions – such as the Middle East, Asia and Africa – and as such its capabilities are equivalent to those of the world’s most important intelligence gathering units, such as the American NSA and the British GCHQ.
According to foreign media reports the unit intercepts and analyzes data collected from radio, phone, fax and e-mail communications; analyzes various electronic signals such as radar emissions; and also decrypts encrypted data. 8200 locates the source of the signals and their recipients, and monitors the volume of the signals as well – valuable information even if the data itself cannot be decrypted. 8200 intercepts electromagnetic signals emitted by electronic systems that do not include any data by themselves, such as the radars of weapon systems, aircraft and ships.
Among the unit’s most famous acheivements: The interception of the phone call between Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Naser and Jordan’s King Hussein on the first day of the Six Day War; and the interception of the phone call between PLO chief Yasser Arafat and militants from a small Palestinian pro-Iraqi group headed by Abu Abbas, who hijacked the Italian passenger ship Akila Laoro while it was cruising in the Mediterranean.