IDF Spotters: ‘The men ignored us, and we all paid dearly’

Members of the woman-dominated Spotters Unit face constant disdain from commanders.
By | Dec 15, 2023
Highlights, Israel, Latest
Six women in olive green uniforms and yellow berets stand with their backs to the camera as part of an IDF "changing of the guard" ceremony for the head of the IDF spotters unit.

As the nightmare in Israel and Gaza continues, Israelis are slowly coming to realize it might have been possible to prevent the events of October 7.

On that day, some 1,200 Israelis, including women, children and the elderly, were systematically and brutally murdered when Hamas invaded Israeli communities and military bases and attacked a music festival. In its attack, Hamas also perpetrated heinous sexual crimes. Some 250 Israeli citizens were taken hostage into Gaza; more than 130 of them still remain in captivity—their fate unknown. Israel responded with a ferocious bombardment and ground campaign in Gaza, in which some 18,700 Palestinians have been killed according to the Hamas-affiliated Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The surprise attack on October 7 has left Israelis reeling from loss of trust in some of their most sacred institutions, including its much-vaunted intelligence services.

But to the intelligence services, the attack was not a surprise. Rather, some argue, it was the result of a toxic cloud of hubris and misogyny that prevented the IDF and the politicians from seeing clearly.

More than a year ago, as revealed in recent reports in Haaretz and The New York Times, Unit 8200—the elite IDF intelligence corps responsible for clandestine operations, collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption, counterintelligence, military intelligence, and more—informed Israeli military and political officials that an attack like the one that would take place October 7 was likely in the near future. The unit prepared a detailed report that predicted simultaneous breaches of the border at numerous places, murder of civilians and the taking of hostages.

According to the New York Times, the Israeli military’s ground forces’ officers dismissed the report, saying that the so-called plan reflected Hamas’ aspirations, and that the terrorist organization had little ability to actually carry it out.

Then, in late summer, only weeks before the attack, a noncommissioned officer (NCO) from Unit 8200 prepared a similar report with similar details, along with additional information. Her report even cited quotes from the Quran that Hamas was using in its battle plans and statements, including Surah Al Ma’idah verse 3: “Two God-fearing men—who had been blessed by Allah—said, ‘Surprise them through the gate. If you do, you will certainly prevail. Put your trust in Allah if you are [truly] believers’” (5:3). The noncommissioned officer interpreted this as referring to crashing the gates leading into Israel.

A commissioned officer in Unit 8200, who spoke with Moment on condition of anonymity because they are on active duty, says, “That report was one of the smartest, most incisive and thorough reports that anyone had seen in a very long time, if ever. The author is an experienced NCO who has been serving for a very long time. I would have thought that she was being ignored because she is a woman, but actually she was backed up by several ‘transcribers,’ all of whom were men.”

Transcribers, the source explains, are very senior career officers, who are particularly experienced, especially talented and hold what are among the most highly regarded positions in Unit 8200. The source notes that the ayah (verse) from the Quran cited in the NCO’s report did indeed appear as part of the mission commands for the October 7 invasion and massacre.

Nevertheless, a colonel in the Gaza Division brushed her off, along with the transcribers’ concerns, saying that the plans reflected Hamas’ aspirations—that the terrorist organization lacked the capability to engage in such an operation at that time.

“There were many failures that led us to October 7,” the source continues.

First was the macho behavior of the officers on the ground. “They always think they know better and aren’t willing to be corrected by people who, they believe, ‘just sit at computers all day.’

“And they were in love with their high-tech wall. They really don’t understand that the ‘Start-Up Nation’ isn’t just about technology, it’s about human thinking and creativity. Also, like the politicians, they were stuck in the ‘contzepia’—the misguided idea that was so prevalent that Hamas could be contained, that Hamas didn’t want a war, that Hamas wanted to get the money and could be dealt with.”

But the worst failing, the Unit 8200 source continues, was the commanders’ misogyny.

“There was supposed to be a last line of defence here—the spotters. And the commanders in Gaza simply dismissed what they had to say.”

Spotters are female members of the IDF who observe the barriers along the border and activate complex technological systems to prevent the enemy from penetrating into Israel. Theirs is a difficult, cognitively and emotionally demanding job that entails hours of closely monitoring surveillance cameras, with the knowledge that missing even the slightest unusual event along the border could have disastrous effects on the entire country.

They didn’t miss Hamas’ preparations for the October 7 attack, says Tikva (not her real name), a spotter who had been on leave at her home in the north at the time of the attack. “We were all seeing Hamas militants training for exactly what happened: We saw them training to crash the fence, training to kill civilians, training to take back hostages. ”

Adds Michali (also not her real name), another spotter who was recently decommissioned, “We knew this would happen. We warned the higher ups. But they ignored us. They told us that they know better, even though this is our job—we have to know every tree, every tent, every pothole in our section, and especially to know when something unusual is happening. And we do.

“But nobody pays any real attention to us. The male commanders tell us that we are supposed to be their eyes, not their heads, and that decisions are made with heads. We write reports, every time that something happens, but I don’t know what they do with our reports. I don’t think they even read them.”

In one case, Tikva says, a senior commander threatened a spotter that if she didn’t stop “making a big deal” about what she thought she was seeing and didn’t stop trying “to interpret things she couldn’t understand,” he would have her brought up on charges.

“He said that we only come to serve for a year or so, and he had been there for years. That we only look at screens and had not been inside Gaza, like he had been. So we couldn’t really know anything.”

The disdain of the commanders, the unrelenting demands of the job, and the tremendous sense of responsibility with no authority, together with sexist catcalls from young male recruits (“They call me a tank—because I am too fat to fit into a tank,” mutters Michali) make it difficult for the IDF to fill the positions of the spotters. The emotional, interpersonal and cognitive skills required for the job are very high—comparable to those for Unit 8200, and for some of the elite combat units—yet the assignment has little prestige. Military figures obtained by Haaretz show that last year, 1,400 candidates were found suitable for the job, but more than 900 were uninterested before their conscription, ignoring it when it was presented to them as an option based on their skills.


The spotters’ units are composed entirely of young female recruits and their female junior officers, who are actually viewing information that is easily accessible, the source from Unit 8200 says. “I’m not sure why only women are assigned to be spotters,” he says. “But they form a line of last defense, and I have no doubt that if men had been watching those screens, everything would have turned out differently.  And I don’t know that the IDF is going to be able to change that until society changes.”

Fifteen spotters were killed at the IDF’s Nahal Oz lookout base on October 7.  Seven others were taken hostage—one of whom was subsequently killed by her kidnappers in Gaza. Those who survived watched their friends executed in front of them, hid surrounded by corpses for hours pretending they were dead, and then were evacuated under fire.

Tikvah concludes bitterly, “The IDF is making a big deal about the women in the tanks in this war, and they are right. Those women are really giborot (heroines). But we did our job well, too, and no one listened, and we all paid dearly—the whole country paid, and Gaza is paying—because the men ignored us. I don’t know how they can live with that. I don’t know how I can live with that.”

The IDF spokesperson did not respond to inquiries about this report.

Top photo: A change of command ceremony for the IDF Spotters Unit in 2021. Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit / CC BY-SA 3.0

2 thoughts on “IDF Spotters: ‘The men ignored us, and we all paid dearly’

  1. Kenneth Newman says:

    This entire war fought by the IDF has been a farce……The invasion of GAZA and the PISS-POOR decisions made during battle, including the shooting of Israelis held hostage with a WHITE Flag, disrespect for Palestinians NOT members of HAMAS, shooting Christians at their church, NOT allowing MORE civilians to leave GAZA, show the crap training of Israeli soldiers…….But what is MUCH WORSE is HOW the intelligence showing a HAMAS invasion of Israel was being planned, and those idiot commanders inside the intelligence units and inside the MOSAD both completely blew their jobs and allowed Israelis to be butchered, raped, and wounded like NEVER before…..ALL of the Israeli Cabinet including the prime minister, should be placed on trial for dereliction of duty……… and imprisoned for 25 years……. and those Generals in charge of the front facing GAZA, should be court martialed , convicted, and and reduced to private….
    Meantime, those JEWS who live in the settlements in the West Bank, should be dragged from their homes, by the Israeli Army, and the land returned to the Palestinians……..I won’t be giving any money to Israel as long as the current West Bank situation exists……

  2. Batya Lee says:

    “I’m not sure why only women are assigned to be spotters,” he says. “But they form a line of last defense, and I have no doubt that if men had been watching those screens, everything would have turned out differently. And I don’t know that the IDF is going to be able to change that until society changes.”

    To me — an American who’s never served in a military — it seems less important that it was women who raised the alarm than the fact that their superiors had such a lack of leadership skills that they showed no interest in the reports. Utterly incurious and unable to take in the information about potential incursions that demand immediate action. It reminds me of stories about the Russian nuclear power plant (Chernobyl) where people who reported problems were ignored by their superiors because no one was willing to stick their neck out to keep the plant and everyone in it and in the region safe. This kind of pervasive dysfunction in the Israel military is completely unacceptable and will unfortunately take years to change. I’m pretty sure those changes will start to happen soon though, because now the whole world is watching.

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