‘A story of heroism and fighting’: Army reopens surveillance center stormed by Hamas

One of Unit 414’s command rooms was located at Nahal Oz base, close to Gaza border; soldiers fought invading terrorists on Oct. 7 until post was overrun; many were killed, abducted

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A mural is seen outside an IDF surveillance command center at the Re'im base. The text reads: 'The flowers will continue to bloom.' November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
A mural is seen outside an IDF surveillance command center at the Re'im base. The text reads: 'The flowers will continue to bloom.' November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Nahal Oz surveillance control center has been reopened by the military at a temporary site on the Re’im army base after it was stormed by Hamas terrorists on October 7,  the Israel Defense Forces announced Monday.

During the onslaught, Hamas terrorists killed and captured several members of the Border Defense Corps’s 414th unit at the Nahal Oz base. It was part of a massive attack by thousands of gunmen that killed over 1,400 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, and abducted over 240.

The soldiers of the unit are tasked with monitoring surveillance cameras along the Gaza border and dispatching forces to potential incidents. The unit has multiple command centers in various army positions along the border. The vast majority of those serving in the unit are female soldiers.

Footage published by the IDF a week after the attacks showed Unit 414 soldiers opening fire using remote weapon systems at Hamas terrorists approaching the border, from a different base near the community of Kissufim. “Commander commander, we are at war,” a soldier was heard saying over the radio.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant later told Unit 414 soldiers at the Zikim base who survived the attacks: “You went through things that soldiers in Israel have not gone through since the War of Independence… You functioned in combat conditions, experienced heavy losses, and played an important part in the battles.”

The new command center that opened Sunday at the Re’im camp allows the surviving soldiers and reservists to again carry out their jobs — monitoring the Nahal Oz area. Re’im, which houses the Gaza Division’s base, is located opposite the Gaza border, a few kilometers south of Nahal Oz. It was also attacked on October 7.

“The story of the Nahal Oz command center will forever be remembered as a story of heroism and fighting,” said the commander of Unit 414, Lt. Col. Ofir Avram.

“We bow our heads in memory of the fallen, embrace and strengthen the dear families who are an inseparable part of the 414th [unit] from now and forever,” he added, in remarks provided by the IDF.

Soldiers are seen monitoring surveillance cameras at a command center at the IDF’s Re’im camp in southern Israel, November 5, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

One of the Nahal Oz command center’s commanders said the unit would continue to do its work despite the losses.

“Nahal Oz is home. Anyone who has ever been there will testify. Nahal Oz is a command room with a special character, and it will remain so even if our current location has changed,” said Sgt. “Aleph” — identified only by her rank and first initial in Hebrew.

“We established a new command room in Re’im, but our spirit is still the spirit of Nahal Oz, and we will continue to fight for the country, in memory of our comrades and the home we rebuilt,” she added.

Outside the new command center, a mural has been painted showing three soldiers in a field of sunflowers, with text reading: “The flowers will continue to bloom.”

Last month, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that a new group of surveillance soldiers was being drafted into the army.

IDF surveillance soldiers belong to the Border Defense Corps (a merger of the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps and light infantry brigades) and operate along the country’s borders, as well as throughout the West Bank.

The surveillance soldiers are referred to by many as “the eyes of the army” as they provide real-time intelligence information to soldiers in the field, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The soldiers gather information through a variety of cameras, sensors and maps, and are expected to be acutely aware of every small change that happens in the 15-30 kilometers of land that they are each responsible for monitoring.

Once relevant information has been gathered by the surveillance soldiers, it is passed up the chain of command, including to intelligence officials who then determine what steps need to be taken.

Members of the unit were among those who warned, in the months before the Hamas massacres, of unusual activity by Hamas at the border fence.

According to the accounts of two surveillance soldiers stationed on the base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the signs of what was to come on October 7 were never taken seriously, the Kan public broadcaster reported last month.

Soldiers are seen monitoring surveillance cameras at a command center at the IDF’s Re’im camp in southern Israel, November 5, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

In the assault, over 3,000 terrorists burst through the border and marauded through communities in southern Israel, slaughtering those they found, with many butchered in their homes or at a music festival. At least 245 people of all ages were abducted and taken captive to Gaza.

Four of the hostages have since been released and one, an IDF surveillance soldier serving at Nahal Oz, was rescued by security forces.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove its regime in Gaza, where the group seized control in 2007. Israel says its military campaign is targeting terror infrastructure and that it is striving to keep civilian casualties to a minimum.

As the war has raged, Hamas and other terror groups have continued to rain rockets on Israel, displacing over 200,000 Israelis and causing widespread damage despite the cover provided by the Iron Dome missile defense shield.

Gaza health authorities, controlled by Hamas, say more than 10,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in the fighting. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and in Gaza, and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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