While many of the boys in Idan Yahya’s high school class were buffing up and preparing themselves for selection into elite combat units, this gawky teenager was spending “a lot of time” playing Warcraft — the real-time strategy computer game where opposing players command virtual armies in a battle to dominate the fictional world of Azeroth.
Four years later, the high school jocks who sweated it out in pre-military academies so they could make the cut into the Israel Defense Force’s Special Operations units are now crawling through the sand dunes on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip and watching while Idan knocks rockets out of the sky hundreds of meters above their heads. Idan Yahya, 22, an Iron Dome “gunner” in the Active Air Defense Wing 167, currently holds the record for the number of rockets intercepted: eight.
The “Geeks vs. Jocks” narrative isn’t really necessary, but I thought it was interesting nevertheless to look inside a world where rocket attacks are just a part of every day life. The discussion a little later in the article over how exactly he shoots them down was revealing:
“There are a lot of flashing blips, signs, symbols, colors and pictures on the screen. You look at your tactical map; see where the threat is coming from. You have to make sure you’re locked onto the right target. There’s a lot of information and there is very little time. It definitely reminds me of Warcraft and other online strategy games,” Idan says.
The young soldier has at his console a machine of vast computing power and aerial TNT. Each Iron Dome battery is manned by a crew of 100 soldiers, including perimeter guards, working in shifts, and the entire system is connected to the larger Israeli multi-tiered air defense order of battle.