“The real test for 8200 will be in its relevance as an intelligence-gathering body, and not whether it will be the catalyst for the next hi-tech start-up,” Brig. Gen. N., the commander of Unit 8200, told Israel Hayom in an exclusive interview.
“I don’t take pride when hi-tech executives who came out of our unit go on to sell their companies for millions. I’m not ashamed of them, obviously, because they are part of the country’s might. But that’s not our goal here.”
Like his subordinates, Brig. Gen. N. feels out of place when he is subject to media exposure. He chooses his words carefully, repeating for emphasis the phrases that he was taught to use, like “on the record,” and “off the record.” He makes sure to warn that any slip of the tongue could cause serious damage, hence caution is a must.
“There was a huge argument in our unit as to whether we should invite media exposure,” he said. “A lot of people were against it, particularly because they are mindful of how we educate our soldiers to maintain quiet and secrecy. Now, suddenly, we are talking to journalists.”
Brig. Gen. N. has been well-trained in secrecy and confidentiality. As a soldier, he first enlisted in a secret special operations unit. In a few years’ time, he would eventually be named commander of the unit, which has turned out notable officers including GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo and Brig. Gen. Noam Tibon. Like them, N. was promoted into the officers’ corps despite never having completed officers’ course.
After a stint as unit commander, he was named deputy commander of Intelligence Corps’s technological unit. From there, he took a leave for a few years to serve in Mossad. Upon his return to the military, he once again assumed command of the technological unit before eventually being named deputy commander of 8200. Three years ago, he was picked to succeed Danny Harari as unit commander, earning himself a promotion to the rank of brigadier general.
“8200 has become a part of the combat army,” he said. “If that means [waging combat] online, then we will do it online, and if it means doing it in the field by arresting terror chieftains in Judea and Samaria or fighting in Lebanon, we’ll be there also. You can’t always do everything from our base, so we are also in the field. The combat battalion’s job is to be in the areas that I need to get to in person.”
Admittedly, he is hoping to appeal to the new conscripts who are trying to decide between the Golani and Nahal Brigades. He wants these troops under his command, as fighters.
“They need to know that we’re not the same elitist 8200 that sits here near Ramat Hasharon,” he said. “We are a big unit that is deployed throughout the country and we are relevant to every operation. Unlike math and cyberspace geniuses, I don’t pick combat fighters before the other units, but I need them very much. This is also a kind of message to the army itself, to the commanders of the brigades and the companies. They need to know that we exist.”
“8200 has internalized the lessons of past wars, particularly the Second Lebanon War, and it will be better than ever,” N. said. “We will order our people to take up positions in which their potential to succeed will be greater, all in accordance with operative plans.”
The goal is twofold. Not only does he hope for 8200 to be relevant in minimizing the volume of rockets and missiles fired at the home front, but it also strives to provide units in the field with information that will allow them to take the necessary precautions against mines, explosives, and anti-tank missiles.
“We’re part of a fighting force and we need to be relevant not just to the decision-makers and the head of the Military Intelligence Research Department, but also on a much wider scale,” he said. “We need to be a national agency that provides a service to everyone, including on the operational and tactical levels. We receive quite a bit of money and the best people available, and this puts a heavy onus of responsibility on us, so that’s why I’m obligated to be alongside the Paratrooper Brigades’ commander during his next mission.”
N. is extra cautious in talking about the world of cyberspace, which in recent years has become a much more titillating topic to discuss. It is in this field that 8200 has been perceived as standing out from the rest. He takes great pains not to reveal any details, and he does his best to avoid hints and intimations.
“We’re a leading technological organization, apparently one of the best in the world,” he said. “In this competition, we understand that creating this technological gap has a tremendous advantage. But all of this is irrelevant if you don't understand who your enemy is on the red side. Technology is not the name of the game. What’s important is how it is used to subdue the enemy.”