The Al Jazeera TV network aired a documentary over the weekend purporting to reveal new information about last year’s IDF special forces raid in the Gaza Strip that went awry, which ended in a shootout and the deaths of an Israeli soldier and seven Palestinian gunmen.
During the 50-minute program, members of Gaza-ruling terror group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said their suspicions were raised when two vans carrying a team of undercover Israeli agents were pulled over and the passengers were questioned.
“We pulled them over, had the passengers get out of the vans and were questioning them for about 40 minutes. We asked one of them to undergo additional questioning with [Brigades commander] Nour Baraka, but they refused, which aroused our suspicions,” one of the masked fighters says.
“But more than one of them that aroused our suspicions… when I asked them what they were doing in the area, they said they were going to visit a relative at the European Hospital,” a Qassem fighter identified as Issa said. “But the route [they were taking] didn’t make sense because Salah ad-Din Road was closer to us and easier to use.”
After the Israelis realized their cover was blown, Issa said one of the Israeli commandos opened fire in a desperate bid to escape their potential capture by Hamas forces.
“I saw a hand pull out a gun with a silencer on it, and shot the officer standing closest to the bus between his shoulders. They started shooting at us and at Baraka, who was of course killed. I was armed, so I took my gun out and I fired directly at the head of their commander, but then I ran out of bullets,” a Qassam fighter identified as Abu Jaafar said.
Abu Jaafar said a total of 16 Israeli undercover officers in two vans were involved in the intelligence mission that went awry.
The documentary included interviews with Hamas officials and fighters, as well as audio recordings and security camera footage showing the two vans driving around northern Gaza on the evening of November 11, 2018.
The documentary said the undercover Israeli soldiers entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing using the cover of Portuguese-based humanitarian aid for an organization called Humedic.
Once inside the Strip, the report said the Israeli commandos pretended to be West Bank Palestinians visiting their sick relatives in Gaza. The Israeli commandos — fourteen men and two women — were driving through Gaza in civilian vans, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the border and were carrying fake Palestinian Authority IDs, the report said.
According to recordings of Hamas radio chatter — transcripts of which were published by Israeli media outlets during the past year — the Strip’s security forces initially believed they pulled over a gang of criminals from the West Bank.
Hamas officials told Al Jazeera that in the wake of the shootout, they recovered a recording device fitted to one of the vehicles. One of the fighters interviewed by Al Jazeera said the device was later blown up by Israel, but claimed that Hamas forces managed to recover its contents.
In the recovered recordings, the Israeli soldiers can be heard panicking after their cover was blown, with one yelling at the team in Arabic: “Get out, get out!”
The documentary also identified some of the 16 Israeli commandos involved in the raid. Though freely available online, the names and photographs could not be published by Israeli media by order of the military censor.
The authenticity of the details revealed by Al Jazeera have not been confirmed by Israeli authorities, which have remained almost entirely silent on the nature and outcome of the raid.
On the night of November 11, 2018, Israeli special forces soldiers entered the Gaza Strip on an intelligence-gathering raid, the details of which are still under a strict gag order by Israel’s military censor.
The raid, in which an Israeli lieutenant colonel — who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name, Mem — was killed and another officer wounded, degenerated into a gunfight in the street and a frenetic car chase.
The Israeli special forces unit was forced to hastily retreat, calling in airstrikes for cover and the elite search-and-rescue Unit 669 to evacuate them by helicopter. During the extraction the Israeli Air Force struck 70 targets inside Gaza in order to give the rescue helicopter the necessary cover to safely land and extract the troops.
In response to the raid and the deaths of its men, Hamas and other terror groups launched a massive three-day attack on Israel, firing some 500 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli cities and towns near the Gaza border and leading the sides to the brink of war.
An IDF investigation into the incident concluded earlier this year that the officer was hit by a stray round of friendly fire. Many of the details of the operation remain classified.
After the incident, citations were given to the soldiers who were part of the special operations force as well as members of other units, including in the air force, who launched a rescue operation to pull them out.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.