The day after that fatal incident in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, there is still no clarity as to what became of the missing Givati officer, 2nd.-Lt. Hadar Goldin. Hamas says it knows nothing about the officer, even though it was Hamas terrorists who attacked him and took him away from the scene. Israel also can’t say whether Hamas is holding Goldin, and whether he is alive or dead.
As far as is known, Goldin was injured in a blast by a suicide bomber who emerged from a tunnel opening, close to a major “attack tunnel” that the Givati force was demolishing. Two other soldiers — Major Benaya Sarel, 26, from Kiryat Arba, and 1st.-Sgt. Liel Gidoni, 20, from Jerusalem — were killed in the blast. IDF sources on Saturday stressed, discouragingly, that Goldin was very close to the two soldiers who were killed. Seconds later, other Hamas gunmen joined the attack, and dragged Goldin into the tunnel opening. An officer and two other soldiers dashed into the tunnel to try to thwart the kidnapping, to no avail, IDF sources said. Some of Goldin’s personal equipment was found.
Soon afterwards, the IDF began taking various actions designed to prevent Hamas from escaping with Goldin. It targeted buildings and cars that were moving around the area — including rescue vehicles en route to Rafah’s Yussuf al-Najjar Hospital — and destroying homes and other buildings thought likely to contain access points to the same tunnel network. It also filled the major tunnel with smoke. More than 100 Palestinians were reported killed in the subsequent actions. It’s possible that the terror cell, and Goldin, were among the casualties.
For the first time since it was established in December 1987, Hamas is trying to shake off responsibility for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Kidnappings of this nature were always a source of pride to Hamas. Just two weeks ago, when it was clear that Oron Shaul had been killed in an attack on an IDF APC in Shejaiya, Hamas claimed that it had seized a soldier alive.
But now, with Israel announcing that Hamas had seized an Israeli army officer, and publishing his personal details, Hamas is dodging responsibility.
Initially, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, did claim that Hamas had captured a soldier. But a senior Hamas source later told this correspondent that this was a misunderstanding, and Abu Marzouk had merely been quoting the Israeli reports. Since Saturday afternoon, the entire Hamas political and military leadership has been chorusing that it has no information on a kidnapped soldier, and indicated that he is not in Hamas hands.
On Friday night, the Hamas military wing stated that “we lost contact with the group of fighters who participated in the ambush, and we believe that they were all killed in the (Israeli) blast. If they did capture a soldier during the fight, we believe that he was also killed in the incident.” The military wing said it did not know where the soldier was, or what his condition was.
Why is Hamas not taking responsibility for the kidnapping? It could be that, for a change, the military wing is telling the truth — that, as a result of IDF activity in the area, the soldier and his captors were killed. It could also be that Hamas is lying, and trying to cover up the fact that it is holding a soldier, because he was seized in breach of the UN- and US-brokered truce, in an action that is causing considerable embarrassment to its allies Qatar and Turkey, who were also signatories to the failed 72-hour truce. Despite Hamas’s lies, the attack on Goldin and the other soldiers emphatically did take place after the truce came into force at 8 a.m. It was carried out more than an hour later.
It may be that the Hamas gunmen in the tunnel did not know about the truce, but that is of no interest to Israel, or Qatar and Turkey for that matter.
It should be noted that Hamas really is interested in a ceasefire. This is not a cautious assessment, or an Israeli misjudgment. Hamas itself is making this clear at every opportunity. Its representatives had even agreed that Israeli forces would remain inside Gaza during the 72-hour truce — something it had firmly opposed just a few days earlier. The situation in Gaza is getting worse by the day, and with it the pressure on Hamas to stop fighting.
As for Secretary of State John Kerry’s ceasefire work: One can only praise the effort he is making, but the 72-hour truce agreement, as published, did not specifically deal with IDF activities to find and demolish the Hamas tunnels. It did allow for Israel to leave the IDF in place in Gaza for the 72 hours, but did not talk of tunnel demolition. Thus, while Israel insisted that the IDF’s work on destroying the tunnels would continue during the truce, Hamas has stressed repeatedly that it did not agree to this. The lack of clarity in the ceasefire agreement on this issue may have been a factor in everything that played out subsequently.