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Air Intelligence: An Insider Look Release date 21.09.2018
On the Iranian military establishment in Syria: "We weren't surprised at all". On the IAF's target pool: "We aim to provide hundreds of new targets each day". Brig. Gen. Uri Oron, Head of the IAF Intelligence Directorate, concludes his tenure and reveals some of the IAF's intelligence activity in face of threats both near and far
Eitam Almadon

Advanced aerial munitions including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), systematic transport of large amounts of munitions across the Middle East and accumulation of launchers and precise rockets in Syrian territory – this is merely a small part of the Iranian military establishment in Syria, which began with the war against the rebels. As the war in Syria grew, so did Iranian assistance to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Photography: Nir Ben-Yosef | Graphic design: Ron Tamir

"We weren't surprised at all – we've talked about it for several months", said Brig. Gen. Oron, Head of the IAF Intelligence Directorate. "The Iranians operate differently from the Syrians. You can see it in their organizational structures as well as their weapon systems, which aren't classic Russian weapon systems. We had to study their weapon systems and modes of operation, which made us cooperate with the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate and change our method of organization. We adjusted ourselves according to the Iranian military establishment in Syria and established a department responsible solely for this subject. Its service members are responsible for gathering intelligence regarding the Iranian military establishment. This department was established according to the changing operational reality, and it reflects the flexibility of the IAF's intelligence personnel".

51-year old Brig. Gen. Uri Oron was born in the Lahav kibbutz. He enlisted in the IAF in 1986 and graduated from Flight Course 117's Fighter Division. He flew "Ayit" (Skyhawk), "Kurnas" (Phantom), "Baz" (F-15), "Barak" (F-16C/D) and "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft. He acted as the Commander of the 102nd ("Flying Tiger") Squadron, Commander of the 110th ("Knights of the North") Squadron, Department Head at the IAF Air Division and Commander of Hatzor AFB.

In the Eyes of the Enemy
"Military intelligence is meant to describe the enemy's current situation", said Brig. Gen. Oron. "The intelligence directorate has three main missions: alert, aerial threats and targets. We have to provide alerts regarding each aircraft in the air which may pose a threat to the state of Israel. This isn't an alert on wartime, but an alert on aerial activity, both near the border and farther away".

Brig. Gen. Oron entering the cockpit | Photography: Yissachar Ruas

"We need to be able to describe our enemy's current situation in order to grasp threats – both threats to our aerial forces and threats from the air", added Brig. Gen. Oron. "It's a wide array of threats which continue to shift at a rapid pace. Our grasp of the topic is technological, based on each theatre separately. Knowing that the enemy has a specific weapon system isn't enough – we have to know how it operates the system. Another one of our goals is planning targets. The great advantage of a modern aerial force is its ability to attack numerous targets in a precise fashion – this is a result of intelligence. If military intelligence provides precise targets, the mission will be performed excellently. If its targets aren't as precise, the IAF isn't as effective".

New in Town
Over the three years in which Brig. Gen. Oron has served as Head of the IAF Intelligence Directorate, the Middle East has seen copious upheavals, mainly in the northern theatre. "The amount of aerial threats in the northern theatre continues to grow", he elaborated. "The area hasn't been this active in dozens of years. Missiles are launched all the time. There has been a rise in this field over the past year as a result of the realization that aerial activity is central. It's a nearly direct result of the warfare in Syria and it's incredibly significant".

Graphic design: Ron Tamir

The internal fighting in Syria has brought in several new participants into the field. "The fighting brought about the Russian presence in the area, the Iranian military establishment attempt and allowed the Syrians to gain military experience. As Assad's regime continues to be established and the Syrians continue to expand their power, this will continue to occur. There is a great effort made by the IAF to prevent the Iranian military establishment in Syria".

As always, the Gaza Strip is a topic in hand. "The subject of alert in the Gaza Strip is incredibly challenging", replied Brig. Gen. Oron. "It isn't merely alerting regarding aircraft, but also providing military intelligence as part of the defense mission. The earlier the intelligence arrives, the more effective the air defense systems are. The same goes for the Gaza Strip – we noticed the force buildup, followed developments, realized the threats and provided the targets".

Informational Influx
"The good news is that we have a lot of information, more than we ever had before", emphasized the Head of the Intelligence Directorate. "Thanks to this information, we have the ability to establish an overview of the current situation better than ever before. There is a great challenge at hand – how do we handle all this information? What we do at the Intelligence Directorate is utilize the amount of data as effectively as possible. We constructed a system which concentrates all the information in one place and provides us with automatic tools. Terms such as 'big data', 'artificial intelligence' and 'machine learning' are already present at the Intelligence Directorate. We're beginning to see the change, but the potential still hasn't been fully realized".

Archive Photo

"This is our test"
The meaning of aerial force is airstrikes. "We are one of the most advanced organizations in the world in the combination of intelligence and airstrikes", said Brig. Gen. Oron. "Planning targets has two bottlenecks – the amount of targets and the amount of munitions. We are incredibly progressed in our ability to come up with targets, but we still have a long way to go. How do we do it? With hundreds of people working in unison – both from the IAF and the Ground Arm – in order to plan targets both in routine and during wartime. To do this, the service members go over the information, formulate questions and partake in intensive procedures".

Photography: Celia Garion

"We have an ambitious goal: to provide hundreds of new targets each day", he revealed. "This is related to the strike capabilities developed by the IAF. Our job is to provide the correct amount of high-quality targets. We're already incredibly advanced, and our big break in the field will come about as more and more technologies are integrated".

The IAF's target pool is updated every day according to the optimal modes of operation. "Our mission is to provide intelligence which will enable victory over the enemy – this is our test", concluded Brig. Gen. Oron. "Defeating the enemy would be through targets. This is how the air force works. If the intelligence officer performed his duty properly, figured out the enemy and planned targets accordingly, then he has succeeded in his mission. His true test is converting his familiarity with the enemy into targets".