A sliver of war, as seen through the eyes of a fallen Israeli soldier
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A sliver of war, as seen through the eyes of a fallen Israeli soldier

Army releases video taken by Maj. Benaya Sarel of unit operating days before ‘Black Friday’ abduction in Rafah; new audio depicts moment when commander learns a soldier is missing

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Marking one year since the outbreak of last summer’s war in Gaza, the army on Tuesday released a video filmed by a commander several days before he was killed in action and a new set of radio transmissions of the Givati infantry brigade on the morning of August 1, known as “Black Friday,” when two soldiers were killed and another was abducted and presumed killed in Rafah.

The two soldiers killed in action were recon commander Maj. Benaya Sarel and his radio operator, Staff Sgt Liel Gidoni; Lt. Hadar Goldin was abducted and subsequently pronounced dead based on evidence heroically retrieved from within a Hamas tunnel.

The video depicts a sliver of the war through Sarel’s eyes. His brother, Yair, told Ynet that Benaya used to wear two cameras on his helmet, one civilian and one military, in order to capture the action. Miraculously, he said, neither of the cameras worked on the morning he was killed.

The GoPro footage released by the army on Tuesday, he added, “was very emotional and it shows where my brother was. The more time passes, the more we thirst for information about Benaya.”

The taped audio broadcasts, primarily between the commander of the elite Gadsar Battalion and Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter, who is trying to assemble a picture of the situation on the ground, include the moment in which Winter is told that the forces had announced “Hannibal” – the set army protocol declaring that a soldier has been abducted.

The order triggers a string of forceful preventative measures meant to thwart the abduction of a soldier.

Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23 from Kfar Saba, killed in Gaza on August 1 (photo credit: AP Photo/ Ynet News)
Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23 from Kfar Saba, killed in Gaza on August 1 (photo credit: AP Photo/ Ynet News)

Established in 1986, one year after a lopsided prisoner swap between Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Hannibal directive is controversial on two accounts. It orders soldiers to thwart an attempted abduction “even at the price of harming or wounding our soldiers,” while forbidding IDF personnel from trying to kill the abducted soldier. At times, that distinction, which might mean in practice that a soldier could take a risky shot with a rifle toward a retreating squad but not bomb it with a Hellfire missile, is lost on the soldiers on the ground.

Additionally, the action taken to thwart the abduction can be severe, causing large-scale collateral damage and death. August 1 was the first time that the protocol was ordered in a dense urban surrounding.

The manner in which it was carried out — dozens of Palestinians were said to have been killed in the action — is still under review by the IDF MAG Corps.

IDF Major Benaya Sarel, 26, who was killed during an August 1 2014 firefight in Gaza Strip. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)
IDF Major Benaya Sarel, 26, who was killed during an August 1 2014 firefight in Gaza Strip. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

The radio communications begin with Maj. Nadav Danino, the recon battalion’s operations officer, stating that his force has come under fire. “Contact with my squad, apparently tunnel opening within a home, I’ve got wounded in the force, more precise picture of the situation in a minute,” he says, speaking in army radio code, which, among other things, terms wounded “flowers.”

Givati Brigade HQ replies, “Roger.”

Lt. Col. Eli Gino, the commander of the Gadsar Battalion, gets on the radio moments later and says, “Contact near the hothouses that I pointed out. For now that’s what I know to tell you. If I know more, I’ll say.”

With a scout plane in the air searching and forces rushing to the scene of the Hamas attack, which violated an early morning ceasefire, Winter gets on the radio and says, in a calm but firm tone, “This is commander. Take note: the area’s full of subterranean — at least from what we see here. Did you find any tunnel openings?”

Danino tells him forces are seeking contact around the tunnel. “We declared Hannibal. Can’t find one of the injured. Moving to a tunnel opening. Will start pushing in. For now: Hannibal.”

IDF Givate Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter (Photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IDF Givate Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter (Photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)

“You declared Hannibal?” Winter asks.

“Affirmative. Hannibal declared.”

“Go. Start working on it,” Winter says. “Go. Strive for contact, ASAP, over.”

Winter came under fire during the war for a pre-battle message he sent to troops, which framed the war in starkly religious terms. Additionally, one of his battalion commanders, Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, was convicted of improper behavior toward a female subordinate and released from service and demoted one rank.

Winter, though, who will be promoted to brigadier general next year – a sort of horizontal promotion, ultimately, since it is to a staff officer post in the IDF Central Command and not a field position – comes off in the recordings as remaining in control of a complex situation.

“This is commander. I want you moving down as fast as possible,” Winter tells Gino.

IDF Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, 20, who was killed in the Gaza Strip on Friday, August 1, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
IDF Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, 20, who was killed in the Gaza Strip on Friday, August 1, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Later Gino informs him that he has a force in the tunnel, led by the then-unnamed Lt. Eitan Fund, that he is following him down into the tunnel, and that the air scouts should watch for people exiting and hold fire on the tunnel.

“Commander, receive: Just came out of the tunnel,” Gino says. “The guys are with me in my hands.”

“Roger,” Winter says, “tell me when out of the tunnel. I’m attacking.”

Gino responds, “We found evidence of the guy who was kidnapped.”

Danino joins in: “Roger, the guys from the tunnel are back. They found evidence of the Hannibal. Do you copy?”

Roger, Winter says, and adds, “Take note: Now we move, pushing forward, do you copy?”

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