The Israeli special forces unit that conducted an intelligence-gathering operation in Gaza which went awry earlier this month had entered the coastal enclave from Israel using false identity cards, in order to plant surveillance equipment to monitor Hamas’s internal communications, a Lebanese news outlet reported Wednesday, citing a senior Hamas official.
On the night of November 11, an Israeli special forces unit inside the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis conducted the raid and was exposed following a search at a Hamas checkpoint, resulting in a firefight in which an Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed, along with seven Palestinian gunmen.
In response to the Israeli raid and deaths of its men, the Gaza-ruling Hamas launched a massive three-day attack on Israel, along with other terror groups in the Strip, firing over 500 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli cities and towns near the Gaza border and leading Israel to the brink of war.
Most details of the operation remain under a strict gag order by the military censor, and all articles about it must be approved, including this one.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted a Hamas security source as saying that the Islamist terror group’s initial investigation into the Israeli raid found that the IDF special operations unit had entered the Strip several times over the past year to plant the surveillance equipment, using identity cards identifying its members as Palestinian residents of the coastal enclave.
According to the Lebanese outlet, the soldiers entered Gaza through Israel’s Erez Pedestrian Crossing.
The Hamas source said the surveillance equipment, meanwhile, was transferred into the coastal enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing by a Palestinian collaborator, who then took it to the area of a secret underground communications facility used by the military wings of various terror groups in the Strip.
The Palestinian collaborator was also said to have installed espionage equipment near the border fence east of Gaza City, posing as an employee for a communications company.
All the equipment was discovered by Hamas’s military wing and removed, the source claimed.
According to the Hamas investigation, the elite unit members crossed into Gaza several times over the past year, separately from one another so as to not raise suspicion. They allegedly used fake ID cards carrying the names and ID numbers of real Gazans, with the officers’ photos.
The Palestinian collaborator was said to have provided the forces with two vehicles. Although at least one of them was struck by an Israeli aircraft during the rescue operation, some of the equipment in it was not destroyed, and was discovered by Hamas, which was able to extract “valuable information,” the Lebanese report said.
Last week, Hamas published the photographs of eight suspected Israeli special forces soldiers, calling on members of the public to contact its military wing if they had any information about them and their activities.
Pictures of the two cars allegedly used by the Israeli special forces soldiers during the raid were also published.
Though freely available on the internet, the photographs could not be published by Israeli media by order of the military censor.
In a highly irregular public statement, the censor also called on Israelis not to share any information they have about the raid, even if they think it benign.
The Hamas source on Wednesday said Gazans had indeed helped provide information on the locations where the Israeli force operated and thanked them for giving “information that had substantial benefit for Hamas following the incident in Khan Younis.”
Israel has not commented on any of the claims.
The Israel Defense Forces has launched its own investigations into the raid.
According to the army, one investigation will be conducted within Military Intelligence. The findings will be presented to the head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
The military said an initial probe was expected to be completed within the coming weeks.
In addition, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon — the former head of IDF Operations — was also charged with a wider investigation into how the army conducts such raids.
Alon was instructed to lead a team to “examine and study the challenges and [make] recommendations at the level of the General Staff, of multiple army branches and of the inter-organizational cooperation between different special forces,” the army said.
During the mission, the unit was stopped and searched at a Hamas checkpoint, and were initially believed to be Palestinian criminals, according to recordings of the terror group’s radio chatter, transcripts of which were published by Hadashot news.
At a certain point, the Israeli troops opened fire on the Hamas gunmen, prompting a gun battle.
The Israeli lieutenant colonel — who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name, “Mem” — was killed and another officer, who went back to recover Mem’s body, was wounded.
The special forces unit beat a rapid retreat from the coastal enclave, calling in airstrikes for cover and a helicopter evacuation from the elite search-and-rescue Unit 669.
Hamas officials are said to view the gun battle as a failure, because their primary goal — according to a Hadashot news report — was to capture the IDF soldiers who had placed themselves so near Hamas’s grasp.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.