‘Tis the season of embedded reporting in the Israeli papers, some of which sent someone down to the Gaza Strip to spend the day with soldiers on the march. As the bloody war down south grinds on, the death toll climbs and the photos of young Israeli men in uniform keep appearing on the front pages — this time three fighters from the Israeli special forces unit Maglan.
Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth dispatch reporters to the front lines to report on the Israeli operation against Hamas’s tunnels. Haaretz’s report mentions that the “soldiers describe real combat in the past day” which is expected to drag out for days to come. They mention sniper fire, RPG fire, explosive booby traps, and a network of tunnels running into houses and apartment blocks beneath the surface of the Gaza Strip — “a real subterranean city,” as one soldier describes it.
A brigade commander tells the paper that in order to eliminate the threat from the subterranean attack routes beneath the surface, “it’s necessary to work a lot with bulldozers and engineering equipment in order to get below, to the tunnel. The implication is huge damage to the area, there’s no delicate way to do this.” The reporter says the IDF makes a concerted effort to minimize damage, to the extent of sending bulldozers around a long way to avoid uprooting fruit trees.
One officer who speaks to Haaretz declined to give his name, not because he doesn’t want public exposure, but because “I don’t want to appear in the second Goldstone Report,” referring to the UN fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
The report says that the reservists who’ve been called up are determined to have it out and finish the mission. “Nobody wants to be here. Nobody wants to die. But I want to live in this country, therefore I’m here,” one fighter is quoted saying.
Yedioth Ahronoth’s reporter embeds with the Givati brigade in the Gaza Strip, and says that the brigade commander — Col. Ofer Winter — is slowly becoming “the star of the operation.” Winter, before the outset of the invasion of Gaza, made headlines by putting the conflict in religious terms in an official IDF dispatch and said the IDF was fighting “blasphemous Gazans.”
“If it were up to Winter, we would have been on the beach in Gaza a while ago,” Cpt. Roi tells the paper, noting that the slow advance turns the soldiers into sitting ducks.
The paper gives some color about some of the unsung heroes of the IDF, the lone soldiers whose families live abroad while they serve in the army. Lately they’ve been in the spotlight (several have fallen in combat), and Yedioth mentions that Sergeant Roi Asor, a lone soldier who moved from New York City and serves in Givati, is with the paper’s reporter in Gaza.
“He left a warm home in the Big Apple to go and live alone in a kibbutz up north,” the paper reports.
Yedioth likewise emphasizes that the terror tunnels are the primary threat, and Asor tells the reporter that there hasn’t been a single engagement with the enemy in which Hamas fighters haven’t attempted to kidnap a soldier.
Israel Hayom might not have sent a reporter in for Thursday’s papers, but its top story deals with the deaths of the latest Israeli casualties of the war, three Maglan soldiers who died when a booby-trapped tunnel entrance exploded, causing the building to collapse on top of them. Fourteen other soldiers were injured.
“It’s important to note that the rigged-up building in which the Maglan force was located was used as an UNRWA infirmary,” the paper notes. It reports that the IDF death toll has risen to 56 since the launch of ground operations in the Gaza Strip.
The paper also reports on the unbelievable story of a Hamas fighter whom the IDF captured in a tunnel last week. He spent three weeks down there subsisting on dates and water, and during a Shin Bet interrogation he said he had been sent to Malaysia in order to train for an attack on Israel with a hang glider. He said he was part of a team of 10 other fighters who were sent to the southeast Asian country in 2010 for the purpose of training to carry out an infiltration attack.
According to the Shin Bet, “these details raised in the investigation demonstrate that Hamas has invested huge efforts in strengthening and building the force, in the framework of which it built and trained a fighting commando army” in addition to the tunnel networks. Israel Hayom quotes the Shin Bet saying that Hamas received training and aid from other countries, without specifying which.