Rescue brings rare cause for Israeli joy, before hearts return to 116 hostages still held

Saturday’s daylight IDF operation was only the third such success since the start of the war; common to all three was that the rescued hostages were not held in tunnels

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Noa Argamani is embraced by her father, Yaakov, at Sheba Medical Center after being rescued from Hamas captivity, June 8, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Noa Argamani is embraced by her father, Yaakov, at Sheba Medical Center after being rescued from Hamas captivity, June 8, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Eight months after it suffered the horrors of Hamas’s invasion and slaughter, increasingly loathed worldwide for its war in Gaza and battered incessantly across its northern border too, Israel on Saturday found itself with a rare cause for celebration: The IDF managed to rescue four hostages, alive, in a daylight operation in central Gaza.

Noa Argamani, Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov and Shlomi Ziv were extracted from Nuseirat and helicoptered home, to be reunited with their families.

Relatives, friends and others rushed to Sheba Hospital to celebrate outside. The prime minister hurried to visit the quartet. The president and defense minister issued congratulations. A lifeguard in Tel Aviv spread the glad tidings to cheers and applause along the sands — just a few short miles north of the Gaza beach from which the four had been flown to safety hours earlier.

The rescue was only the third such successful effort in 246 days of war — after female soldier Ori Megidish, 18, was brought home in late October, and Fernando Marman, 61, and Louis Har, 70, were extracted from southern Rafah in February. Innumerable other rescue operations have been planned, extensively in some cases, but deemed too dangerous or otherwise impossible to facilitate. At least one more was attempted but ended in failure.

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)

Initial reports on Saturday’s rescue indicated that all four of the hostages were held above ground, in buildings controlled by Hamas, in the homes of Gaza civilians.

Hamas claimed dozens of Gazans were killed in the IDF operation. Israel will doubtless be widely blamed for such fatalities — blamed, that is, for daring insistently to rescue its abducted citizens from the clutches of the terrorist government that kidnapped them. The terrorist government that utilized Gaza’s citizenry to hold the hostages captive, and that has spent the past eight months leveraging them and the 116 other hostages it still holds as bargaining chips in its bid to survive the war it started, rearm and resume its declared efforts to kill Jews everywhere and destroy Israel.

A man holds an Israeli flag as Israelis gather inside Ramat Gan’s Sheba Tel HaShomer Medical Center, where four Israeli hostages were transferred after their rescue from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Common to the three rescue operations is that all seven of the hostages saved were not imprisoned in the vast tunnel network Hamas spent years developing throughout Gaza. Much of this hellish underworld remains intact. The tunnel network is where many of the remaining thousands of Hamas gunmen continue to operate, where many of its leaders are still hiding out… and where many of the remaining hostages, at least a third of whom are known to be dead, are widely believed to be held.

The fact that Saturday’s operation was only the third success — a high-risk, immensely complex operation, and one in which an experienced counter-terrorism officer lost his life — underlines the yet more complicated nature of any attempts at rescuing hostages from the tunnels. The intel would need to be even more specific and the risks would be still greater — too great, evidently, for the IDF and security services to have been able to attempt.

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan raises his hands in celebration as he is escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Even as Israel allowed itself a rare few hours of joy on Saturday, hearts and minds — crucially among the political leadership — must and will quickly return to those 116 October 7 hostages for whom rescue has thus far proved impossible. A fuller celebration must wait until all of them are home.

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