Hamas captures sophisticated Israeli military balloon
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, seized an Israeli military surveillance balloon on June 17. The observation balloon crashed in the Beit Hanoun area in the northern Gaza Strip after it unhooked from its anchor. The Israeli army tried but failed to destroy it before Hamas operatives could find it.
The Israeli army deploys a number of these balloons, equipped with sensitive sensors and cameras not found in the Gaza Strip to monitor the entire border area. Amir Bohbotmilitary editor and senior defense analyst for Walla, Israel’s main news site, described the incident as a “dangerous event”, but the israeli army reassured that he did not fear a “significant” leak of information. This got out the other border balloons as a precaution.
An official from Hamas’ military wing told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Israeli forces tried to recover the ball, but were unable to do so.
He revealed that the balloon is equipped with six high-resolution cameras with 360 degree visibility, night and fog visibility and thermal imaging. The balloon was captured in good condition, and “we are now working on repurposing this balloon to use it to monitor the movements of the Israeli army,” he said.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth described some of the technical characteristics of the balloon, which is also sold to foreign armies. The article said that the balloon had crashed due to an error by the operations officer, and that the winds had pushed it towards the Gaza Strip.
The cameras carried by the balloon cost 2 million shekels [$588,000], it said. They are made by Israel and align with the highest global quality standards and cannot be compared to drone cameras, noting that they provide a surveillance view from a distance of 5 km with high precision, day and night.
On the other hand, Hamas has simple tools to monitor the movements of the Israeli army. It uses locally made drones and cameras that can be bought in the market.
In recent years, Hamas has managed to uncover numerous Israeli surveillance and espionage operations. In January 2019, Hamas revealed that it had seized spy devices and technical equipment during the botched covert Israeli military operation in Khan Yunis on November 11, 2018. Special Israeli secret agents disguised as Palestinians had infiltrated in the coastal enclave to wiretap Hamas’ private communications system.
Hamas was able to dismantle such equipment and devices and obtain intelligence information. Hamas also obtained the real names and photos of the members of the spy unit.
Moreover, in May 2018, Hamas discovered the largest Israeli spy device on its communications network in the middle of the Gaza Strip. When its members attempted to dismantle it, it exploded, killing six of them.
An Al-Jazeera investigative report last May revealed an operation by Izz al Din Al-Qassam in which snipers hit the majority of Israeli surveillance cameras along the eastern border of the Gaza Strip during the May 2021 clash, in order to prevent the Israeli army from monitoring the movements of its fighters. The report notes that Hamas seizes Israeli drones that have fallen in the Gaza Strip in recent years and reuses them against the Israeli army.
Hours after Hamas seized the balloon, Israeli warplanes bombed one of the movement’s military positions and destroyed one of its vantage points in the northern Gaza Strip, which overlooks the settlement of Netiv Haasara.