Hamas publishes photos of what it says are IDF forces who conducted Gaza raid

Military censor calls for people not to share information, saying even ostensibly ‘harmless’ details can endanger lives and damage state security

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Blurred version, approved by military censor, of photographs published by the Hamas terror group on November 22, 2018, purporting to show Israeli soldiers who took part in a Gaza raid earlier in the month.
Blurred version, approved by military censor, of photographs published by the Hamas terror group on November 22, 2018, purporting to show Israeli soldiers who took part in a Gaza raid earlier in the month.

The Hamas terrorist group on Thursday published the photographs of eight people that it says were involved in last week’s IDF special forces raid in the Gaza Strip, which ended in a shootout and the deaths of one Israeli soldier and seven Palestinian gunmen.

The photographs were distributed on social media along with the email address and two phone numbers of the Gaza-ruling terror group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in order to allow people to provide information about the operation. The phone numbers were not working on Thursday afternoon.

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Though freely available on the internet, the photographs could not be published by Israeli media by order of the military censor. The censor approved the publication of the pixelated photograph used in this article.

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.

“Hamas is working now to interpret and understand the event that occurred within Gaza on November 11, and every piece of information, even if it is considered by the publisher as harmless, is liable to endanger human lives and damage the security of the state,” the censor said.

Hamas on Thursday further claimed that the IDF forces were from the Sayeret Matkal elite reconnaissance unit, and that they crossed into Gaza via an official border crossing. The Israeli military censor permitted publication of these claims, which were not confirmed.

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.

Recordings of the radio chatter by Hamas fighters were obtained by Hadashot television news earlier this week, which gave no indication as to their origin and declined to broadcast the audio recording itself, “in order not to expose a source,” the news network said.

The authenticity of the recordings has not been confirmed by Israeli authorities, which have remained almost entirely silent on the nature and outcome of the raid.

According to the Hadashot broadcast, the Israeli special forces team was first identified as suspicious by Hamas security officials, possibly police officers, who saw the car passing by them on the outskirts of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

A Hadashot television news illustration of a car-chase gun battle in the streets of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip during the November 11 raid by IDF special forces in the city. (Screen capture)

“To all forces and positions, a blue Volkswagen is driving suspiciously and very fast near the Islamic University,” one official says on the radio, according to the transcript.

“There are suspicious people in the vehicle. They’re dangerous. Approach with caution,” he adds.

It is clear from later chatter that, at this stage, the Hamas forces still believe they are dealing with either a criminal gang or, possibly, a militia group not under their control.

According to an account of the events provided by Hadashot, Hamas forces then begin trailing the car and are soon engaged in a chase through the streets of Khan Younis. As one Hamas vehicle chases the IDF unit from the west, other Hamas units set up a roadblock to the east.

At some point, someone opens fire. It is not clear from the Hadashot report who it was, but earlier reports from Gaza said Hamas believes the IDF force opened fire first.

Members of the Palestinian security forces gather at a hospital morgue where the bodies of five of the six men killed during an Israeli operation on Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip were transported on November 11, 2018. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

The Hamas radio traffic then resumes, according to the transcript. “The car ran through our checkpoint and fired at us from the vehicle. All forces, converge on this location. Everyone must converge on the area to deal with this situation.”

It is only then, with the IDF force believing it is exposed and an IDF rescue operation underway, that Hamas officials reportedly realized they were dealing with Israelis.

“Fighter jets are suddenly above us. Everyone be careful,” a voice says over the radio. And shortly after: “Listen carefully to our instructions. They’re Jews.”

It is roughly at this point that the IDF commander in the field, Lt. Col. Mem, is hit by Hamas gunfire, and mortally wounded.

The Israeli forces stop fleeing, step out of their car and face the pursuing Hamas force. The IDF soldiers charge, apparently killing the entire Hamas team. An Israeli helicopter then fires a missile that destroys the Hamas force’s vehicle, the report said.

President Reuven Rivlin consoles the family of an IDF officer killed in the Gaza Strip during the officer’s funeral o November 12 2018 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

An IDF officer who went back to the Israelis’ car to pull Mem’s body free was wounded in the crossfire.

Under the watchful eye of the hovering IDF chopper, the Israeli force then flees on foot toward the rescue helicopter’s landing site.

That account, drawn from the Hamas radio traffic, suggests the operation was exposed by little more than an alert Hamas patrol. Once exposed, the Israeli response, which was already praised over the past week by Israeli leaders as “heroic,” appears to have included preventing the capture of IDF soldiers, successfully retrieving both the fallen member of the force and the wounded officer.

Hamas officials are said to view the gun battle as a failure, because their primary goal — according to the Hadashot report — was to capture the IDF soldiers who had placed themselves so nearly in Hamas’s grasp.

The raid sparked a massive retaliation by Hamas in the form of some 500 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli towns and villages on November 12 and 13, before Israel and Hamas acquiesced to an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire.

The ceasefire in turn led to the resignation of then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman, in protest, and a week of political chaos, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to hold his razor-thin majority coalition together and avoid early elections.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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