Hamas radio chatter shows IDF commandos were initially thought to be criminals

Hamas radio chatter shows IDF commandos were initially thought to be criminals

Transcripts from November 11 raid show Gaza terror group’s forces attempting to hem in Israeli troops, who escape via gunbattle with pursuers

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

New transcripts of radio chatter between Hamas security during the IDF special forces raid in Gaza on November 11 show that the terror group initially thought the “suspicious armed men” its forces had noticed were a Palestinian criminal gang.

The raid, which degenerated into a gunfight in the street and a frenetic car chase, sparked a massive retaliation by Hamas in the form of more than 400 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.

The recordings of the radio chatter were obtained by Hadashot television news, 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.

None of what follows has been confirmed by Israeli authorities, which have remained almost entirely silent on the nature and results 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 said on the radio, according to the transcript.

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

“Which car?” another voice asks.

“Volkswagen. There are armed men inside,” comes the answer. “They must be stopped as quickly as possible. Anyone who sees [the car], report it.”

It is clear from later chatter that, at this stage, the Hamas forces still believed they were 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 began trailing the car, and were soon engaged in a chase through the streets of Khan Younis. As one Hamas vehicle chases the IDF force 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.

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.”

An IDF Apache helicopter flies near the border with Gaza in southern Israel, on November 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Four fighter jets are above me. There was a strike near us. The jets are coming from the north. They attacked one of the [Hamas force’s] cars. Hide. Close in on the Jews. Don’t let them leave [the Gaza Strip].”

It is roughly at this point that the IDF commander in the field, Lt. Col. M, 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.

An IDF officer who went back to the Israelis’ car to pull M’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.

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