Unit 8200: In the Beginning

By Amir Kidon

IDF Photo
(IDF) “After the Six Day War, we built a post in Jerusalem, near of Mount Scopus. In order to disguise the unit, we hung a large sign on the outer gate marked Army Radio.” One morning, during of the Army Radio program ‘Greetings from the Field’, a woman rang the bell at the entrance and asked us to send her love to her son. We were in shock. Immediately, we made a few phone calls and we managed to connect with the Army Radio station. We tracked down the radio program’s supervisor and asked him to send that soldier his mother’s greeting. Our secret identity was successfully kept.” The unit we are speaking of is 8200, the Central Intelligence Gathering Unit of the Intelligence Corps and this anecdote is recounted by Maj. (res.) Arieh Surkis. For over 50 years, Maj. (res.) Arieh Surkis is counted among the founders of this extraordinary Intelligence Corps unit.

Stories of this nature are typical realities for Surkis, who as a young soldier got used to answering the question, “So, where do you serve?” by saying, “I sell waffles in the Shekem.” In honor of the most guarded Corps’ 60th anniversary we asked him to dredge up some memorable details. An Intelligence Corps veteran like Surkis does not give in easily – but here gives us a few stories that describe the first days of one of the IDF’s leading units.

In October of 1952, Private Surkis stood at the Intelligence Corps Chief Officer’s Headquarters in Jaffa, where the military courts are located today. After a three month long trial period he joined the 2nd Intelligence Service Unit as a laboratory technician. “We hand just a handful of people,” explained Arieh. “Shortly thereafter, the unit’s name changes the 2nd Intelligence Service Unit to the 515th Intelligence Service Unit. In our day, the joke was that the name changed because there were 500 Iraqis and 15 Ashkenazim.”

“The equipment we had then was very primitive. It was surplus American military equipment that we had purchased; it was amateur equipment.” Arieh recalled that he was responsible for the listening equipment in those days. “You must realize that neither the Intelligence Corps nor Unit 8200 controlled the conditions under which we served which were very difficult in those days. The State of Israel was placed in a difficult position from a topographical point of view and it was for this reason that we received the order that 8200 would station a trial observation post on every hill across the country.”

“In 1954, the unit moved from Jaffa to the area of Glilot interchange. Glilot was much quieter, in contrast to Jaffa that was very noisy and where there was no room to expand. I was proud to be the first soldier from the unit to move from Jaffa to Glilot, and there we slowly established the unit and the base that exists today.”

Unlike other military units, Unit 8200 created and planed within itself many of its capabilities. “Today, the high-tech, in its entirety, exists thanks to Unit 8200; where ever you are you, we’re there. The development actually began after the Six Day War. It was then that many means and acquisitions were gained and the unit expanded greatly thanks to the Head of the Intelligence Corps, who was then Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv (z”l),” explained Arieh.

“Today’s generation is a very sharp generation. We were very naive, but had extraordinary motivation. We got a boost of motivation every week during a squadron and department meeting when we would converse with one another about what occurred that week. The only thing that I think there isn’t today is investment in our heritage. The sentence that epitomizes the feeling we had toward our work was: ‘If this isn’t ready on time all will be lost’. If we don’t mange to deliver the necessary information on time, God forbid, it will be disastrous. We carried out our tasks with love and with great capabilities."