For first 7 hours, residents fought terrorists almost alone

Failure and slaughter: IDF’s Be’eri probe shows army’s colossal errors, residents’ bravery

Investigation into Oct. 7 Hamas invasion of kibbutz, where 101 civilians and 31 security personnel died, finds disastrous response by military amid battle against hundreds of terrorists

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

CCTV footage shows the early moments of the attack carried out by Hamas on Kibbutz Be'eri, as well as the taking of Kibbutz members as hostages, on October 7, 2023 (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law); Scenes showing the destruction left across the Kibbutz premises, as seen on November 16, 2023 (Leo Ramirez/AFPTV/AFP)

On the morning of October 7, 2023, hundreds of terrorists swarmed into the unsuspecting Gaza border community of Kibbutz Be’eri, in what would become one of the deadliest killing grounds amid the Hamas-led terror onslaught, and the worst attack on a single community.

Residents were left to fend for themselves for long hours, with the army — stunned by the shock attack on dozens of towns and in utter disarray — failing to come to their rescue as terrorists moved from home to home, kidnapping, brutalizing and massacring civilians well into the afternoon.

In all, 101 civilians and 31 security personnel were killed in Be’eri — a community of around 1,000 residents — and a further 30 residents and two more civilians were taken hostage by the Hamas terrorists, 11 of whom still remain in Gaza. At least 125 homes in the community were damaged and destroyed amid the fighting.

On Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces presented its probe into the battle at the kibbutz — the first in its detailed investigations of the many battles of that day — highlighting the heroism of Be’eri’s local security team and other Israeli forces who participated in the fighting, as well as the army’s colossal failures that enabled the massacre.

Hamas terrorists at Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Be’eri was the hardest-hit community in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, during which some 3,000 terrorists stormed across the border and massacred close to 1,200 people in their homes and at a nearby music festival in southern Israel, and took 251 hostages to Gaza.

The probe, carried out by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein, a former commander of the Gaza Division, covers all aspects of the fighting in the kibbutz that day.

Mourners gather around the graves of Lianne Sharabi and her two daughters, Noiya,16, and Yahel,13, during their funeral in Kfar Harif, Israel, Oct. 25, 2023. The three were murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 in Kibbutz Be’eri near the border with the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Edelstein and his team — none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF — spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

The reason for the Be’eri probe being presented first among the long list of IDF investigations into the October 7 onslaught was twofold, according to the military: Firstly, the IDF considers the Be’eri investigation the first to be ready to be presented to the public, although some final details still need to be ironed out. Secondly, the military sees the presentation of the probe as a way of rebuilding trust with the kibbutz in particular and the Israeli public in general, following the IDF’s failures on October 7.

Blood in houses when Hamas terrorists massacred residents of Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, 2023, near the Israeli-Gaza border, as pictured on October 25, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

The Be’eri probe was aimed at drawing specific operational conclusions for the military. It did not examine a wider picture of the military’s perception of Gaza and Hamas in recent years, which is to be covered in separate, larger, investigations into the IDF’s intelligence and defenses. The army is also not looking at policies as set by the political leadership, in a bid to avoid a fight with government leaders who have insisted such investigations must wait until after the war against Hamas ends.

The probe concluded that the IDF “failed in its mission to protect the residents of Kibbutz Be’eri,” largely since the military had never prepared for such an event —  an Israeli community being captured by terrorists, as well as a widescale attack in numerous towns and army bases simultaneously by thousands of terrorists.

The IDF had trained for “single intrusions” and as a result, its forces were deployed in such a way that there were no troops that could be sent to Be’eri amid the widescale attack.

The probe found that the army had difficulty in building a clear picture of what was happening in Be’eri until the afternoon hours, despite the local security team providing information on the fighting starting early in the morning. It also found that security authorities did not provide Be’eri with an adequate warning of the attack.

A dead body after the devastating assault by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 11, 2023 (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

According to the investigation, the IDF had difficulty in command and control of the situation during the first hours of the fighting in Be’eri.

During the onslaught, numerous units were involved in battling Hamas in Be’eri, and there was little coordination, leading to a large number of troops gathering outside the community and not being immediately involved in the fighting, according to the probe.

Some troops were ordered not to enter and fight but instead help evacuate civilians; others initially fought inside the kibbutz but then withdrew to evacuate wounded soldiers; and in some cases, troops waited for their commanders to arrive before entering. Later in the evening, commanders were briefing troops before entering to avoid friendly fire, which also caused a large buildup of troops outside Be’eri.

Graves of Kibbutz Be’eri residents who were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, in Kibbutz Revivim, southern Israel, November 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The probe also found cases in which troops acted inappropriately vis-à-vis civilians, such as not shielding them amid rocket attacks in the area.

Also according to the probe, a senior officer who greenlit tank shelling near a home in Be’eri where Hamas terrorists were holding hostages, killing at least one Israeli, acted “with professionalism” and made “responsible decisions.”

The investigation team also determined that residents of Be’eri and members of the kibbutz’s local security team managed to hold the line for the first several hours of the attack, preventing terrorists from massacring more civilians.

Yair Avital, a member of the Kibbutz Beeri local security team. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The probe also pointed to tactical failures amid the battle in Be’eri, including some that were “understandable” given the circumstances, which included a lack of information and the highly tense and chaotic situation, and failures that occurred because of wrong decision-making by commanders.

Failures due to wrong decision-making included some units entering Be’eri and then withdrawing; the fact that for the first seven hours of the attack, only 13 troops and 13 members of the kibbutz’s local security team and other armed civilians were fighting off the invasion; and that in a handful of cases wounded soldiers were given priority in evacuation over civilians.

This IDF infographic shows a graph displaying the amount of IDF troops versus terrorists during the fighting in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

More than 300 terrorists invaded Be’eri. These included 100-120 members of Hamas’s elite Nukhba force, 50-70 additional Hamas operatives, and around 100-150 members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, other terror organizations, and Palestinian civilians who later arrived to loot and riot.

At least 100 terrorists were ultimately killed by Israeli forces in the kibbutz, and 18 were captured alive.

The timeline of the attack

The Hamas assault on Be’eri began not long after 6:30 a.m. on October 7, and had largely ended by the evening of October 8, although some terrorists remained in the area and were killed or captured by troops even on October 9.

At 5:30 a.m. on October 7, Israeli troops stationed in the Be’eri and Nahal Oz area took their stations along the Gaza border in a shift change. The Hamas onslaught would begin exactly an hour later.

Amid a deluge of rockets fired at Israel, the first Hamas terrorists broke through the border barrier at 6:30 a.m. They attacked two tanks stationed at the so-called Paga military post, also known internally in the IDF as “the Be’eri protector” outpost — located on the border just across from the kibbutz. The attackers used RPGs and drones dropping explosives.

One of the tanks was disabled by the Hamas fire, and its team members were killed and their bodies abducted. The second tank maneuvered further north and engaged several terrorists, but also sustained hits, and its team members, aside from the driver, were killed.

The driver took the tank to the Nova music festival near the community of Re’im to engage terrorists there as they massacred partygoers. Much later, at 2:30 p.m., Col. Nissim Hazan would drive that same tank back to Be’eri and, in an infamous incident, fire shells at a home where Hamas was holding hostages.

Surviving troops at the Paga outpost continued to battle terrorists and were unable to protect Be’eri, while other forces stationed in the area would go to fight attackers at Nahal Oz, leaving the kibbutz undefended.

Merkava tanks roll into position outside Kibbutz Be’eri, near the border with the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

At 6:42 a.m., Hamas terrorists from the Nuseirat Battalion’s 2nd company crossed the border on motorcycles and headed toward Be’eri. The last members of the company reached the kibbutz at 7:20 a.m.

The battalion’s 1st and 3rd companies, meanwhile, first headed to the Nova musical festival, where they murdered hundreds of partygoers. Later, the two companies would head to the southern city of Netivot, but en route would spot an IDF tank and instead turned back and go to Be’eri per instructions given by Hamas commanders, joining the 2nd company.

Arik Kraunik, the chief of the Be’eri security team, spotted the first Hamas terrorists on motorcycles heading toward Be’eri, and notified the army and residents. He also told members of the local security team to meet up at the armory, where the kibbutz’s assault rifles were locked up. Kraunik had the keys.

Kraunik approached the kibbutz’s main entrance as two terrorists breached it, and was killed in a firefight.

At the same time, Ilan Weiss, the deputy of the emergency response team who lived on the western side of the kibbutz, and who also had a key, set out from his home to reach the armory but was also killed by terrorists and his body was abducted to Gaza.

This left the remaining members of the security team without assault rifles to fight with, and with only their personal weapons.

The two terrorists who killed Kraunik at the main entrance, in Be’eri’s north, continued moving inside the community, killing civilians and members of the security team as they headed to the northwestern side of Be’eri, where Hamas had used a bulldozer to breach the fence and allow dozens more terrorists to stream in.

One of those hit by the two terrorists at that time was Gil Buyum, also a member of the security team, who was taken into the kibbutz’s dental clinic but later died. Several security officers made a stand against the terrorists from the dental clinic.

The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 14, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

At around 7:27 a.m. a group of five police officers entered the kibbutz, but immediately turned around after hearing gunfire and were not seen again that day, according to security camera footage and testimony from a resident. The probe was unable to determine where the officers headed after leaving Be’eri.

Meanwhile, Hamas terrorists were moving from home to home in Be’eri’s western neighborhood, murdering those inside and setting fire to buildings.

Inside a home attacked on Oct. 7, 2023, by Hamas terrorists at Kibbutz Be’eri, Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The local security team along with several armed civilians, including reservist general Yossi Bachar, fought back, preventing the terrorists from advancing into the center of the kibbutz.

By 9:03 a.m., 13 members of the Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit arrived by helicopter, making them the first Israeli troops to begin fighting in Be’eri.

The Shaldag team would be the only IDF unit in Be’eri until around 1:30 p.m.. According to the probe, only 26 armed Israelis were present in Be’eri until that time, facing down around 340 terrorists.

At one point amid the fighting, the Shaldag team lost one member and another was seriously wounded, leading them to withdraw to the entrance and evacuate the wounded. This failure to stay to fight alongside the local security team and civilians represented poor decision-making and a serious professional error, the probe found.

The Shaldag team repositioned itself at the entrance to Be’eri, killing several Hamas terrorists there, and would later return to fight inside the kibbutz. Additional Shaldag members would later arrive, among them Maj. (res.) Yitzhar Hofman (Hofman went on to fight inside Gaza in the war and was killed in a Hamas sniper attack in Gaza City earlier this year).

At 11:30 a.m., Palestinian civilians began to enter Be’eri and riot and loot the community. Hamas’s two additional companies, which had gone first to the Nova party, arrived at Be’eri at 12:15 p.m.

Illustrative: an aerial picture from October 10, 2023, shows the abandoned site of the Supernova music festival, near Kibbutz Re’im, where some 360 people were killed in Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught. (Jack Guez/AFP)

By 1 p.m., all 32 of the kibbutz hostages had been taken by terrorists to Gaza. No other hostages were taken after that time. According to the probe, the terrorists attempted abductions after 1 p.m. without success.

By this time, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi had decided to appoint commanders to take charge of specific areas in southern Israel where fighting was taking place, in an attempt to coordinate the troops. Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, the commander of the 99th Division, was appointed to the Be’eri area at 1 p.m., though he arrived much later to the community, at around 4:15 p.m.

Meanwhile, members of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit attempted to reach Be’eri, but encountered terrorists on the Route 232 road just outside the kibbutz and were delayed in reaching it.

At around 1:30 p.m., Shaldag and Sayeret Matkal decided to each take opposite sides of Be’eri and search the community for the estimated remaining 200 terrorists, as well as rescue civilians who had been holed up in the safe rooms of their homes for hours.

As the special forces were operating, the Paratroopers’s 890th Battalion arrived at Be’eri and without coordinating or knowing of the other units’ activities, also began to sweep the kibbutz. Still, there was only one suspected incident of friendly fire between the troops in Be’eri, and that occurred overnight. According to the probe, the troops were careful not to open fire unless they were engaged in a direct battle with terrorists, fearing hitting civilians.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) meets with the head of the 99th Division, Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram in Gaza City, July 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Over the following hours, between 1:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., troops engaged in a series of gun battles with Hamas terrorists inside Be’eri. Meanwhile, a group of police officers attempted to drive around the kibbutz to reach it from its western side, but were ambushed by Hamas terrorists with RPGs and all eight were killed.

Between 2 and 3 p.m., the first civilians in Be’eri were evacuated, although most were taken out at around 6 p.m.

At 5 p.m., tanks, including the one driven by Col. Nissim Hazan, arrived at Be’eri and began to scan the area along with the other forces present.

Pessi Cohen’s house

The incident at the home of Pessi Cohen in Be’eri was one of three hostage face-offs between terrorists and security forces amid the October 7 onslaught. The others took place at a home in Ofakim and at the Sderot police station.

Terrorists, from Hamas’s two additional companies, had rounded up civilians in the southern neighborhood of Be’eri and brought them to a single home, Cohen’s. Six were held outside in the yard, while another nine were held inside the house, though one was already dead, according to the probe.

At 3:08 p.m. a first phone call was made to police regarding hostages being held in Be’eri. Due to a miscommunication, the report was forwarded to troops as a hostage situation at Be’eri’s dining hall, and not at Cohen’s home.

The remains of the home of Pessi Cohen, where Hamas held 14 Israelis hostage on October 7, 2023, in Kibbutz Be’eri, seen on November 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

At 3:59 p.m., one of the terrorists holding the hostages at Cohen’s home called his superiors in Gaza and told them that the IDF had arrived. The military intercepted this call.

Meanwhile, before knowing that hostages were held in the house, members of the police’s elite Yamam unit fired a shoulder-launched missile toward Cohen’s home after coming under machine gun and RPG fire from it.

It was shortly afterward that the Yamam and Shin Bet security agency realized the house was where hostages were being held, and not the dining hall. As forces surrounded the home, the hostages in the yard were not visible to them.

As Hazan’s tank arrived in the area around 5 p.m., he crushed several Hamas pickup trucks that had apparently been intended by the terrorists to take away the hostages held at Cohen’s home.

At the same time, one of the eight terrorists inside Cohen’s home surrendered to Israeli forces, using one of the survivors, Yasmin Porat, as a human shield as he exited the house. This saved her life.

Brig. Gen. Hiram, by then in Be’eri but not at the house, gave approval to fire light tank shells near and at the building to pressure the terrorists inside to surrender.

At 5:33 p.m., Yamam and Shin Bet commanders ordered Hazan’s tank to fire the first light tank shell near the building. The first shell struck the pathway leading to the home.

At 6 p.m., Hiram arrived at Cohen’s home, and spoke to the Yamam commander there, ordering them to finish within 40 minutes as the sun was setting. After about 20 minutes, Hiram left to handle other incidents in Be’eri.

At 6:26 p.m., a call was made by Hamas commanders in Gaza to the terrorists at Cohen’s home, ordering them to run away. A minute later, at 6:27 p.m., a second light tank shell was launched at the pathway.

The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists when they infiltrated Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, southern Israel. October 25, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

At 6:32 p.m., the terrorists told their commanders in Gaza that they would fight to the death, and two minutes later a third shell was launched at the pathway.

This shell bounced off the ground and struck just above the doorway of Cohen’s home, according to the probe. As a result of the impact, shrapnel killed hostage Adi Dagan, 68, and injured his wife, Hadas Dagan, 70.

A fourth shell was launched at 6:57 p.m., targeting the roof. According to the probe, this was also to apply pressure on the terrorists to release the hostages, and not aimed at harming anyone inside.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in surrounding homes, and troops were also coming under fire from where the hostages were held. Among those involved in attempting to reach the hostages was Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora (he was killed months later during a successful hostage rescue mission in the Gaza Strip in June).

This IDF infographic shows the map of the October 7 terror onslaught in the border community of Be’eri. (Israel Defense Forces)

At 7:57 p.m., a long burst of gunfire was heard by the forces, and then silence with no sound of the hostages. The special forces then decided to enter the home, engaging in a gun battle with the remaining terrorists inside. Only one of the hostages, Hadas Dagan, survived the exchange of fire.

The causes of death of the 13 other hostages have not been definitively identified, though many were apparently killed by gunfire.

“The team determined that most of the hostages were likely murdered by the terrorists, and further inquiries and reviews of additional findings are necessary,” the probe said.

Between 10 p.m. on October 7 and 5 a.m. on October 8, the IDF continued to evacuate civilians from Be’eri and search for remaining terrorists, although there were far fewer engagements.

Searches continued the following day, until the IDF declared that it had regained control of the kibbutz. Still, there were a number of clashes in the area over the following days, as some Hamas terrorists hid out.

The probe said Hiram, and the Yamam and Shin Bet commanders, “made professional and responsible decisions, and fully exhausted negotiation efforts,” with regard to the tank shelling.

“The tank fire towards the area near the house was carried out professionally, with a joint decision made by commanders from all the security organizations after careful consideration and a situational assessment was made, with the intent to apply pressure to the terrorists and save the civilians held hostage inside,” the probe said.

Before the war, Hiram was tapped to be the next commander of the Gaza Division, a move that has been on hold amid the investigation. IDF chief Halevi is due to decide whether he will be promoted in the coming weeks, after the current head of the division recently announced his resignation over October 7.

IDF chief: ‘Probe illustrates the magnitude of the failure’

Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.”

He said that additional investigations would provide a fuller picture of the onslaught, and enable the IDF to draw operational conclusions that would be implemented immediately.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi is seen holding a situational assessment in central Gaza in an image published June 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said it would also set up a website where the findings would be publicly available, and it would be updated over time with additional investigations into the battles on October 7.

There were some 40 battle locations during the Hamas attack, which are being investigated by more than 20 military commanders.

Each battle investigation or set of investigations is to be presented upon completion, and not all simultaneously, as some events have proven to be more complex than others to review.

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The military is also meanwhile carrying out an investigation focused on a timeframe from the March 2018 Hamas-led Gaza border riots until October 10, 2023, the point when Israeli troops reestablished control of southern Israel following the attack.

This investigation includes the IDF’s intelligence assessments on Hamas from 2018 until the outbreak of the war, and the military’s conception of its own defenses and its operational plans against threats in Gaza.

Additional IDF probes into October 7, such as the intelligence and decision-making process on the eve of the onslaught, as well as the days leading up to it, will be based on the conclusions of this investigation.

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