IDF opens probes into Gaza special ops raid that went awry
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IDF opens probes into Gaza special ops raid that went awry

One investigation into incident, in which Israel officer was killed, will be led by Military Intelligence, while a second will look deeper into how army conducts such missions

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A helicopter carrying a wounded Israeli soldier who was injured during an operation in the Gaza Strip lands outside Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center on November 11, 2018. (Twitter)
A helicopter carrying a wounded Israeli soldier who was injured during an operation in the Gaza Strip lands outside Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center on November 11, 2018. (Twitter)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday announced it was launching two separate investigations into an operation that went awry in the Gaza Strip earlier this month in which special forces soldiers were exposed by Hamas operatives, leading to a firefight in which one Israeli officer and seven Palestinian gunmen were killed.

In response to the raid and the deaths of its men, the terror group launched a massive three-day attack on Israel, along with other terror groups in the Strip, firing some 500 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli cities and towns near the Gaza border and leading Israel to the brink of war.

On the night of November 11, Israeli special forces soldiers entered the Gaza Strip on an intelligence-gathering raid, the details of which remain under a strict gag order by the military censor.

According to Hamas officials, the Israeli soldiers were from the Sayeret Matkal elite reconnaissance unit and entered the coastal enclave through a proper border crossing, either Israel’s Erez Crossing or Egypt’s Rafah. They were said to have been driving through Gaza in civilian vans, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the border.

Israel has not confirmed any of the claims.

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)

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.

An 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.

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

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 Hayman 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.

Outgoing head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon speaks at a ceremony at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on May 21, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Hamas terror group is conducting its own investigation into the Israeli raid.

Last week, Hamas published photographs of eight people that it says were involved in the raid.

The photographs were distributed on social media along with the email address and two phone numbers of the 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 stopped working later in the day.

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.

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.

“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 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.

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