The IDF observers have to make the distrinction between armed terrorists, main instigators of rioting, uninvolved protesters, shepherds and unarmed Palestinians crossing the border in to search for work or seeking to get caught.
The troops on the ground, who are stationed along dirt mound embankments facing the border fence, have a limited line of sight. They are therefore assisted by the observers, who regularly monitor the border but now have to step up their game to prevent thousands of Palestinians from crossing into Israel.
Over the past four months, the IDF observers have had to contend with explosives being planted near the border fence; armed terrorists making their way to the border and then being eliminated at their instructions; main instigators trying to sabotage the border fence and enter Israel; and on top of all of that, criticism—mostly unjustified—about their supposed role in the operational failures that allowed Palestinians to infiltrate Israel.
"I don't think we have had operational tensions this intense here since Protective Edge," Lt. Kerem Aviner, a Gaza Division observers officer, told Ynet.
"The soldiers on the ground see things from a very specific angle, and the observer can see the entire area, she can identify who is dangerous and who isn't. Our recommendations to the forces help determine who to open fire on and who not to. The force doesn't shoot of its own volition. There were instances in which the force had someone in the crosshairs, but didn't shoot—and not just during the rioting," she explained.
"We can already identify some of the Palestinians, we know in advance which person is okay, which person didn't come to cause harm—such as someone with a banner or a flag—who is really a shepherd, where are the groups of kids, and who is a terrorist," she added.
Five hours monitoring a terrorist
Lt. Aviner helped thwart a terror attack on the night between Wednesday and Thursday, when a terrorist armed with an AK-47, grenades and an explosive belt was spotted by IDF observers advancing toward the border fence under the cover of darkness.
The observers called Armored Corps and Golani Brigade forces to the scene, who closed off the area. After five hours of monitoring the terrorist, he was eliminated by an IAF aircraft.
"Us telling the forces he was a terrorist did not come easy, only after monitoring him and observing him for an extended period of time, analyzing his movements, reconstructing the angle and reexamining the camera's angle. He jumped and rolled and did not appear innocent," Lt. Aviner explained.
"The operations room is quiet during such moments, and afterwards as well. It's not that we're on a 'high' when it's over. We sit with the observers after such an incident, talk to them and investigate, because they saw something complex," she went on to say.
"We're called 'the country's eyes,' but only when you come here do you realize how true that is. We advise the fighting forces where to take position, and we know how to direct fire from tanks, aircraft and infantry forces," Lt. Aviner continued.
Some four months ago, the Gaza Division's Northern Brigade observers received praise from the sector's commanders after one of them identified two Palestinians nearing the border fence with a horse-drawn wagon. The two stopped some 50 meters from the security fence, where they carried out some actions that appeared suspicious. Identifying them as terrorists was not easy, as some thousands Palestinians from the Saja’iyya neighborhood were rioting nearby.
"There was no suspicious movement (beforehand), but I still directed the camera at that spot," Cpl. Gal HaLevy, an observer who worked on that shift, recalled in a conversation with Ynet. "I noticed it was unusual, and I insisted the suspicious spot near the barbed-wire would be checked by the forces."
Several days later, the IED discovered there was blown up in a controlled explosion. It was a powerful device meant to kill soldiers operating by the border fence. It was neutralized by a vehicle-mounted Directed Energy Warfare (DEW) system called THOR.
About a week ago, HaLevy's friend identified two terrorists advancing towards the border fence near the Zaytun Quarter. Minutes after the terrorists opened fire, the observer's directions allowed a Golani force in the field to eliminate the two terrorists with no casualties on the Israeli side. The video of the incident was released that very day by the IDF.
In between these incidents, the Gaza Division's observers worked to identify the main instigators at the heart of the rioting on the Gaza border, as well as Palestinians who were climbing power towers in an effort to sabotage military infrastructure near the border.
Cpl. Omer Kaplan is in charge of the Bureij sector in the center of the strip, where quite a few Palestinian workers try to cross the border to enter Israel illegally.
"We're required to be sharper, because anything can happened under the cover of the crowds," she said.
The problematic image of observers and their demanding job has suffered yet another blow recently due to online reports that claimed IDF observers were to blame for several infiltrations of Palestinians into Israel.
"It made me particularly angry, because it's not true," Cpl. HaLevy said. "At first I didn't want to do this job, but only when you get here do you understand the great significance it has, and it gives you a feeling that's hard to describe. We know that human lives will be harmed or saved because of our work."