newsIsrael at War

IDF uses birds of prey to locate remains of massacre victims

The innovative method has led to the recovery and subsequent identification and burial of several Israeli victims.

Tens of thousands of predatory birds migrate to Israel. Photo by Yaron Charka.
Tens of thousands of predatory birds migrate to Israel. Photo by Yaron Charka.

Some 1,400 Israelis were brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 onslaught on the northwestern Negev. Many were killed while attempting to escape or while in hiding.

The victims’ remains were scattered throughout the area, some concealed in hiding places and others obscured by the dense foliage, making it a challenging task for the Israel Defense Forces to locate their bodies.

In the wake of this harrowing reality, the military’s missing soldiers unit, known by its Hebrew acronym EITAN, has shown unwavering dedication to the ongoing search for these victims, sometimes even under fire.

One notable contributor to this mission is Lt. Col. (res.) Nissim Magnaghi, a reserve officer who volunteered to serve in the southern region. It was during this challenging period that Magnaghi conceived an innovative idea to streamline the search process—utilizing the substantial number of birds of prey in the combat zones.

This proposal caught the attention of EITAN’s commander, who subsequently reached out to the relevant authorities for support in the unconventional surveillance of the area’s birds of prey.

Yaron Charka, the chief ornithologist at Keren Kayemet LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund, explained that “during the winter, tens of thousands of predatory birds migrate to Israel, covering the entire Negev and Gaza Strip. Many of them, however, concentrate in this specific area, offering a genuine opportunity to identify the location of bodies by tracking the movements of these birds.

“In some instances, we were able to identify a body because the raptor next to it was equipped with a GPS transmitter. This allowed us to observe that the bird had remained in one place for an extended period. Since these tracking devices are quite costly, only a select few birds of prey carry them. Consequently, the collaborative efforts of the unit, KKL-JNF officials, and the Nature and Parks Authority are primarily focused on identifying regions with a significant congregation of raptors.”

While some of the bodies discovered using this method belonged to Hamas terrorists, the significance of this approach lies in the fact that it has also led to the recovery and subsequent identification and burial of several Israeli victims.

According to Chakra, “In many cases, we would not have been able to locate the bodies on the ground, especially if they were concealed or in unexpected locations. However, the keen eyesight of these predatory birds, soaring high above, enables them to spot the bodies and land nearby, greatly aiding our efforts.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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