IDF Sweeps Officers’ Cars for Bugs, Over Terrorist Surveillance Concerns

Israeli army cites 'preventive measures' based in part on assessments of Hezbollah’s intelligence capabilities

An IDF jeep
Gil Eliahu

The army has contracted with a private company that can detect listening devices installed in vehicles used by its senior officers, out of concern that terror organizations might be capable of using such means.

A few months ago, the Israel Defense Forces spent around 50,000 shekels ($14,000) to sweep the vehicle of a senior officer, Haaretz has learned. The measure was apparently taken as a precaution and not in response to intelligence indicating the presence of bugs. The army believes that terror organizations have not only the desire, but also, increasingly, the ability to place surveillance devices in the vehicles of its top officers.

In recent years, the army’s focus has been on the possibility of listening in on the cellphones of soldiers, resulting in restrictions on use of the devices. These include limitations on bringing cellphones into army bases, classified locations and sensitive meetings.

A bug planted in an officer’s vehicle constitutes a potentially more significant threat, since the device could record everything that transpired in the car while also tracking all its movements. Such a bug can only be identified in a thorough sweep, and sometimes may require advanced technology, which is why the army turned to an outside company.

One concern that is being addressed is the possibility of an enemy gaining surveillance capabilities similar to the army’s, thus reducing Israel’s qualitative edge in this area. A program targeting this issue is in the works.

“We are in competition with the terror organizations over technology, over regional influence, so we ask ourselves how to do things correctly so that in another decade, the IDF will be better than its adversaries,” a senior officer explained over the past several months.

Military figures have concluded that Hezbollah has advanced intelligence capabilities, and the militant organization has an intelligence unit for this purpose. The Lebanese Shi’ite group has been able to improve its intelligence capabilities in recent years thanks to Iranian financial and technological support.

In a response, the IDF said that it carries out electronic surveillance detection and monitoring as part of the security provided to high-ranking officers. “The IDF uses a number of means, both covert and overt, to guarantee the security of intelligence and personnel. This is not in response to a concrete threat or concern, but rather routine preventive actions taken in the context of the yearly work plan.

Early this year, Chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Hezbollah was currently the IDF's main adversary. According to the army chief, the group is operating under a simple principle, which challenges the IDF's air, ground and intelligence superiority. In 2010, it was reported in Lebanon that Hezbollah purchased listening devices worth $5.5 million. The group bought the equipment, which was manufactured in Germany, through an intermediary, and it was installed in Lebanon with the help of Iranian experts.

Hezbollah said several times in recent years that Israel planted listening devices in Lebanon. For instance, about a year ago Lebanese reports said local forces spotted such equipment hidden near the village of Marcaba. In other instances, it was reported that after such devices were found they exploded, injuring those nearby.