Report: Israeli undercover agents hid among locals for weeks

New details on hostage rescue indicate operation was nearly canceled at the last minute

Conditions at one of the locations housing hostages were seen as suboptimal, but a decision was made to proceed; IDF issues footage of troops in Gaza during the extraction

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left) and Shin Bet security services Director Ronen Bar at the special operations room overseeing a mission to release hostages in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Shin Bet security services)
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left) and Shin Bet security services Director Ronen Bar at the special operations room overseeing a mission to release hostages in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Shin Bet security services)

Israel’s June 8 operation to rescue four hostages in central Gaza was nearly canceled at the last minute, Channel 12 reported Friday.

According to the network, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the head of operations at the Shin Bet security agency informed Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi that conditions for the rescue were not optimal at one of the two locations in which the hostages were held.

This would make it more difficult to access both locations at the same moment — a critical element of the operation to prevent terror operatives from harming the hostages.

Security chiefs had a one-hour window to make a decision. After deliberations, the Shin Bet’s Operations Directorate recommended to move forward. Halevi and Bar approved and at 10:55 a.m. the order was given to launch the operation.

The report did not detail the problem or what actions were taken to mitigate it.

The IDF on Friday released footage from the raid, showing troops of the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance unit operating near central Gaza’s Nuseirat, as the rescued Israeli hostages and special forces were transferred to armored vehicles.

The video shows the paratroopers arriving at an area where the Yamam and Shin Bet officers became stuck with the rescued hostages due to massive enemy fire and a vehicle breakdown, and securing it.

The special forces, including fatally wounded Yamam officer Ch. Insp. Arnon Zmora, and the hostages were then extracted in armored vehicles and taken to the Netzarim Corridor area, from where they were airlifted to a hospital in Israel.

The Jewish Chronicle on Thursday published details on the undercover work carried out by special forces in the lead-up to the operation.

According to the report, which cited unnamed Israeli security officials, after Israel received intelligence on the location of the four hostages in Nuseirat — Noa Argamani in one building, and Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov and Shlomi Ziv in another — teams of men and women perfectly impersonating locals, known as “mista’arvim,” moved into the area.

The teams disguised themselves as Gazans fleeing the Israeli offensive in Rafah in the weeks leading up to the rescue, befriended locals and began monitoring the locations and gathering information, including through renting out an apartment and shopping at the local markets.

On Friday, the Shin Bet security agency published an image showing a makeup room during preparations for the hostage rescue mission.

A handout photo released by the Shin Bet on June 14, 2024, shows a makeup room that the security service said was used as part of preparations for Operation Arnon. (Shin Bet)

At the same time in Israel deliberations began on the intelligence and the possibility of mounting an extraction effort. When the decision was made to do so, special forces conducted three intensive days of training, simulating the two buildings in which the hostages were held. The decision to launch the rescue was made on June 6, at which point most of the undercover agents left Nuseirat, though a small team remained to ensure the hostages were not moved.

The operation was executed successfully two days later.

On Tuesday the last of the four freed hostages was released from hospital, following a battery of medical tests and psychological care after eight months in Hamas captivity.

Israeli hostages pictured after their rescue from Hamas captivity in Gaza on June 8, 2024. From left: Shlomi Ziv (IDF); Andrey Kozlov and Almog Meir Jan (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90); and Noa Argamani (Courtesy).

Noa Argamani, 26, was released on Tuesday afternoon from Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv following a series of checks, the hospital said.

Argamani has been one of the most recognizable faces of those abducted on October 7, following a widely circulated video of terrorists taking her from the Nova music festival on October 7, and separating her from her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, who remains in captivity.

Video shared to social media on Tuesday showed Argamani reuniting with Or’s mother, while other footage shared by Israeli media and the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit showed Argamani reuniting with her father, Yaakov, who celebrated his birthday on the day of the rescue.

Meir Jan, Kozlov and Ziv were released from Sheba Medical Center on Monday after they were carefully examined following their rescue.

Troops carry out operations as part of the raid to rescue four hostages in the Gaza Strip, released for publication on June 9, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Doctors who treated the rescued hostages said they were suffering from malnutrition, were beaten regularly and experienced great psychological distress during their captivity.

According to Israeli accounts, the rescue of Argamani, who was held separately from the three men rescued that day, was relatively smooth considering the circumstances, but a major gun battle erupted at the home where Meir Jan, Kozlov, and Ziv were held. During the firefight, Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora was critically wounded by Hamas fire. He later died.

A short while later, as the three hostages and Zmora were being extracted from Nuseirat, their vehicle came under fire, causing it to get stuck in Gaza. Other forces quickly reached the scene to rescue them, bringing them to a makeshift helipad in Gaza, from where they were airlifted to Tel Hashomer Hospital in central Israel.

Palestinians look at the aftermath of strikes during a hostage rescue mission by Israeli forces in Nuseirat camp, Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024 (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

According to the IDF, the rescue forces faced a massive amount of gunfire and RPG fire in Nuseirat, leading the ground troops and the Israeli Air Force to carry out major strikes in the area. The strikes, targeting the areas from where Hamas operatives were opening fire, were aimed at protecting the rescue forces and the hostages.

Hamas says over 270 people were killed in the operation. Israel says it knows of around 100. The IDF acknowledged that it killed Palestinian civilians amid the fighting, but it placed the blame on Hamas for holding hostages and fighting in a dense civilian environment.

Screen capture from bodycam video during the rescue of hostages from Gaza on June 8, 2024. (Screen capture: IDF)

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

Emanuel Fabian and agencies contributed to this report.

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