Second senior IDF commander quits following Gaza raid that went awry
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Second senior IDF commander quits following Gaza raid that went awry

After head of elite unit resigned earlier this year, chief of Special Operations Division steps down, reportedly furious over attempt to replace him

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car allegedly used by Israeli special forces during an operation in Gaza, which was was later destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car allegedly used by Israeli special forces during an operation in Gaza, which was was later destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate is reportedly in crisis after a second senior commander stepped down in the aftermath of a raid by special forces in the Gaza Strip that went awry last year.

The commander of the Intelligence Directorate’s Special Operations Division recently quit angrily after learning the military had asked his predecessor to rejoin the army and replace him, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Thursday.

The commander, who can only be identified by his rank and the first Hebrew letter of his name — Brig. Gen. “Gimel” — learned about the attempt to oust him from media reports two months ago, the report said.

He was infuriated and gave IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi two months’ notice, the newspaper said.

The military is reportedly scrambling to find a replacement for Gimel, as the previous commander of the Special Operations Division — who can be identified only as Brig. Gen. “Alef” — has not yet given an answer as to whether he is willing to resume the position he held in 2015-2016.

Gimel has informed his commanders that he will leave his position on August 1 regardless of whether a replacement is found, saying he doesn’t want to be a “lame duck.”

The quitting officer previously commanded the Israeli military’s elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit.

Commenting on the report, the IDF praised the retiring officer as “an esteemed commander and combat fighter who contributed significantly to the security of the state throughout his service. In some 30 years he took part in dozens of special operations, and the units he commanded won awards and much appreciation.

“The officer asked to end his term at the beginning of August after completing three years commanding the division,” it said. “His request was approved, and a replacement will be appointed in the coming days.”

The development came after the commander of Sayeret Matkal resigned in February, in the wake of the Gaza operation, during which an officer was killed.

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

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)

According to Hamas officials, the soldiers were from Sayeret Matkal and had been conducting a complex operation to bug the terror group’s communications equipment in Gaza. 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 those claims.

During the operation, their van was stopped at a Hamas checkpoint and a firefight broke out. An Israeli officer — a lieutenant colonel who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name, “Mem” — was killed in the clash and a second, who went back to recover Mem’s body, was wounded. According to the Israeli military, dozens of Hamas fighters were killed in the initial gun battle and the subsequent airstrikes that were carried out to assist the remaining special forces in making their escape from the Strip.

The Israeli military has launched two investigations into the raid.

In stepping down in February, the commander of Sayaret Matkal became the first head of the elite commando unit in 23 years to leave the military immediately after serving in the position. In general, the post is a steppingstone to more senior ranks.

Screen capture from a speech given by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade’s Spokesperson Abu Obeida on April 17, 2016. (via Facebook)

A spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, Abu Obeida, said at the time that the group saw the early retirement as a “direct result” of its foiling of the Israeli military operation — a counter-operation he called “Operation Spearhead.”

The terror group made a similar boast after then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman announced in November that he was stepping down in light of the government’s policies toward Hamas and the Strip, calling his resignation a “political victory for Gaza.”

“The resistance and steadfastness of members of our nation have led to the overthrow of Liberman from his position as defense minister. Today, the commander of Sayeret Matkal is also retiring as a direct result of Operation ‘Spearhead,'” Abu Obeida said in a statement at the time.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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