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Inside an Israeli ‘War Room’ on the Volatile Lebanon Border

They call it “Hamal” – short for “war room” in Hebrew. It sits high in the mountains on the Israel-Lebanon border, at the heart of a complex protected by blast walls.

Everything here is about security. There are no windows, and before you can pass through the solid door you have to leave behind mobile phones and smart watches – anything that could give away this secret location.

Inside are banks of monitors. Right around the clock, a team of soldiers are gazing at them intently.

Each shows grainy black-and-white images from cameras that are constantly trained on more than 100km (62 miles) of Lebanese border. Shifts are normally four hours long, watching the pictures cycle over and over and looking for anything usual.

Since Palestinian Hamas militants attacked southern Israel from Gaza 11 days ago, killing 1,400 people and taking 199 others hostage, there has been a steady increase in tensions on this border.

Almost every day Hezbollah militants from Lebanon have launched anti-tank missiles into Israel, and Israeli forces have responded with artillery, fighter jets and attack helicopters.

Both sides have seen civilian deaths this week. Each engagement raises fears that the violence on this border could quickly spiral out of control.

Captain “S” commands the all-female company watching the cameras. This surveillance job is exclusively done by women.

“We are the eyes of the soldiers, the eyes of the forces in the field – of the entire border.” she tells me, “and we are playing a very important role.”

Along one side of the room, childhood photos of each soldier are strung along the wall like bunting. Their dates of birth are written in thick black pen underneath. Each is young, most are still completing their period of compulsory military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“We are strong women, female soldiers that know their job and mission and know that we play a very important role in this war.

“Our goal is first of all to defend, and all the girls know it. Each soldier comes to her shift vigilant and knows her part.”

On several occasions over the past week, militants have tried to get across the wall.

Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese military and political group backed by Iran, has gradually increased its efforts to infiltrate Israel. Like its staunch ally Hamas, it has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US, UK and others.

There are real concerns internationally that any miscalculations here could lead to a new northern front opening up in this war. A major event – like the hospital explosion in Gaza, or the start of a ground offensive there by Israel – could also trigger Hezbollah to take more significant action towards Israel.

At some moments, it feels very close. Sergeant “I” was on duty, watching her monitor, when the images on it suddenly changed.

As shadowy figures approached the border wall, she knew what to do. Quickly, she called in an air strike.

“I recognised a group of terrorists on the screens and understood that something was wrong. This is my job, to protect the northern border so that no one will penetrate and no civilians will get hurt, especially those who live here by the border.”

“It’s scary, and it’s stressful, but I have to keep it cool. I won’t lie, it’s very scary to stand here by the border. With everything that’s happening nowadays in our country, it’s very difficult to process all that’s happened.”

For Sergeant “I”, it’s especially difficult. Young female soldiers doing exactly the same job in the south were targeted by Hamas.

“I think of all the forces and the camera observers who were caught up in the attack there. My heart goes out to them. I personally know a lot of people who were abducted or murdered.”

Source : BCC