In recent years, Israeli intelligence has relied on an extensive network of human intelligence (humint) agents that evolved alongside the military controlled, albeit-porous occupied areas in South Lebanon and Gaza. The daily contact with the population enabled Israel's security services (ShinBet) to recruit informers and extract high-quality intelligence on terrorists, foreign operatives and their planned attacks, contributing to their successful interdiction.

Following the withdrawals from South Lebanon, Gaza and some of the West Bank, with borders becoming mostly sealed for movement and commerce, Israel must stretch its intelligence gathering to leverage new capabilities that partly offset the lack of traditional humint.

A main driver for these new capabilities is a new operational concept known as terrain dominance, which relies on four pillars: extensive intelligence coverage; efficient command and control of networking; precision fire effects directly integrated with intelligence and sensors; and dedicated networks responsible for command, control, computers, communications and intelligence.

All of Israel's top-tier defense companies are involved in this national effort, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Elbit Systems and Rafael, as well as smaller companies specializing in sensor development, data fusion, information access and retrieval.

While some elements of terrain dominance are already deployed, others require further developmental efforts. One of the most challenging areas is Wide Area Persistent Surveillance (WAPS), a key capability in the still-evolving concept.

These specialized sensors are necessary to deliver persistent coverage of wide areas with high-resolution imagery. Until recently, military and intelligence agencies worldwide relied on airborne or satellite-mounted electro-optical (EO) sensors that delivered wide-area still imagery, or high-resolution live video with a narrow field of view. Covering wide area with an “all-seeing eye” requires high-resolution coverage in both wide and narrow field of view, resulting in extremely large imagery storage and guzzling bandwidth during transfer. This trend is evident in several U.S. and British programs, such as the Gorgon Stare and Argus-IS.

Similar capabilities now being developed at IAI entail platforms that comprise a number of independent mini-payloads. This assembly enables a single platform to serve multiple users simultaneously, or methodically cover a wide area with rapid revisit by some sensors, while others dwell longer on priority targets to gather more information. Such sensors can be mounted on large UAVs such as Heron I or Heron TP, or even the Electric Tethered Observation Platform.

Skyeye, developed by Elbit Systems, enables a single platform to track multiple targets, supporting several users with simultaneous high-quality visual imagery. The company claims that its unique system can deliver such capability without committing costly stabilized EO payloads for each point of interest. The scalable system delivers multiple, real-time full-motion video streams, yet is contained in a small footprint to fly on the Hermes 450 tactical UAVs, as well as on the larger Hermes 900.

A different solution offered by Rafael Advanced Technologies relies on its combat-proven Reccelite tactical reconnaissance pod, and the lighter Recce-U, optimized for UAV operation. Unlike the other systems delivering live video for real-time surveillance, the Reccelite's gimbaled high-resolution sensor provides precise snapshots. By manipulating field of view (details) and revisit-frequency to meet priority status and relevance of each target, users obtain persistent coverage of wide areas.

Still photographs delivered by the system over time have proven several tracking benefits, like being able to plot departure and arrival points, map patterns of life, aid in uncovering significant activities and insurgent association, and show network topologies. Another benefit of using still imagery is the fusion of such information with large data sources, through data-mining, to deliver enhanced intelligence products.

Unattended ground sensors complement the bird's-eye view. Israel reportedly used powerful sensors hidden on mountaintops in Lebanon to track insurgent activities years after its forces left the area. Such sites were uncovered by the Lebanese in recent years, but only a decade after their emplacement. Since the 1990s, unattended sensors have evolved, with current sensors becoming ever smaller and more sensitive.

For example, Elbit Systems has unveiled two sensor families. The smart Small All-Terrain Networked Detector comprises computer-controlled seismic, acoustic and visual sensors, networked and powered to operate unattended and unsupported for years, behind enemy lines. A different miniature networked sensor, smaller than a matchbox, can be deployed by dismounted patrols or fired by artillery or mortar shells. Used like breadcrumbs scattered along the line of movement, these sensors are left behind unattended to monitor the area for months, without support.