15 surveillance soldiers were killed, 6 more taken hostage

‘Strange to be here without them’: Soldiers who survived Oct. 7 return to Nahal Oz base

Survivors who escaped command center inferno make emotional visit to its charred remains, which they recall were once filled with military activity, soldiers’ banter

Memorial candles line the charred desks in the destroyed command center of the Nahal Oz base, February 23, 2024. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Memorial candles line the charred desks in the destroyed command center of the Nahal Oz base, February 23, 2024. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Five IDF soldiers who survived Hamas’s October 7 attack on the Nahal Oz surveillance base returned recently for the first time to see the charred remains of their former command center, where many of their fellow soldiers were killed or taken hostage during the shock onslaught.

A Channel 12 television report that aired Friday documented their emotional return to the base, where 15 surveillance soldiers were killed and six more were taken hostage on October 7. In total, 66 troops were killed in the assault on the base, part of the massive Hamas-led onslaught in southern Israel in which Palestinian terrorists 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and 253 kidnapped.

“It’s not easy,” said Maya, identified only by her first name. “It’s strange for me that they’re not here, it’s strange to be in the command center without them.”

“I can’t really process it,” she added, saying before October 7 there was never a time when the now-ruined command room was not filled with activity, banter between soldiers and laughter.

“It took me three months to get back to normal,” Maya said. “I couldn’t get back to normal because my normal included the girls who unfortunately were killed here. I’m still working on it.”

The attack on the Nahal Oz base, which housed members of the Border Defense Corps’ 414th unit and is located less than a kilometer from the Gaza border, came at the very start of the Hamas assault.

Cpl. Maya returns to the Nahal Oz base for first time since surviving the October 7 Hamas attack, in a Channel 12 news interview aired on February 23, 2024. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Soldiers in the unit are tasked with monitoring surveillance cameras along the Gaza border and dispatching forces to tackle potential incidents. The unit has multiple command centers at various military posts along the border. The vast majority of those serving in the unit are female soldiers.

The surveillance soldiers gather information through a variety of cameras, sensors and maps, and are expected to be acutely aware of every small change that happens in the 15-30 kilometers of land that they are each responsible for monitoring.

During the assault, Hamas operatives destroyed some monitoring cameras and disabled other surveillance means as thousands breached the Gaza barrier and proceeded to overrun communities and the military base.

Surveillance soldiers could see at least some of the breaches as they occurred on October 7 and alerted border forces, but these were unable to handle the scale of the massive assault.

At Nahal Oz, some 30 minutes after the first alerts went up, and as soldiers were doing their best to respond to the unfolding crisis, they realized their base itself was under attack by hundreds of gunmen.

“We realized that they had also entered here, into the base. Shot all the cameras. There were no screens, you couldn’t see anything, there was no electricity, everything here was dark,” Maya recounted.

For some three hours, a small group of four combat soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s 13th Battalion, who were trained to protect the base and its personnel, battled the gunmen down to their last bullets. But as the attackers advanced, the troops eventually became trapped in the command center itself along with the surveillance soldiers.

An IDF investigation in December indicated that soldiers killed in the command center were attacked with a toxic flammable substance that was apparently thrown through the entrance.

The survivors recounted being unable to escape through the emergency exit because the door was on fire, and there was no way of opening it or even getting close to it.

File: The torched command center of the IDF’s Nahal Oz base, overrun by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, is seen during a visit by relatives of slain soldiers on December 19, 2023. (Courtesy/Eyal Eshel)

“People started to cough and choke, and we knew that we didn’t have long in that room,” said Maya.

Those who were able eventually reached the bathrooms, where a small window led them outside. One of the officers climbed up to the window and smashed it, allowing himself, five other officers, and Maya to escape the toxic inferno.

“I can’t believe more people didn’t make it out with me,” said a survivor identified only as Lt. Y. “That’s the most difficult thought, and I believe it haunts each and every one of us every day.”

The survivors were joined on their visit by the mother and brother of Staff Sgt. Itay Avhraham Ron and the brothers of Lt. Yohai Dukhan, who were among the four combat soldiers defending the command center and who were killed along with Sgt. Maj. Ibrahim Kharuba. The fourth, identified only as Lt. Nimrod, survived.

Ron’s mother told Channel 12 that she was not surprised by his heroism but that it was still difficult for her to think of what he went through in those moments.

“It’s hard for me to think about him here and what he went through in his last minutes,” she said.

Left to right: Cpl. Maya, Lt. Ilan, and Lt. Mia visit Nahal Oz base for first time since October 7, February 23, 2024. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The destroyed, soot-covered command center has become one of the symbols of the military’s many failures on October 7. The base was inadequately guarded by vastly outnumbered combat soldiers and the surveillance soldiers themselves were unarmed.

Members of the unit were among those who warned, in the months before the Hamas massacre, of unusual activity at the border fence. According to the accounts of two surveillance soldiers stationed on the base, the signs were reported to higher-ups but were never taken seriously.

Relatives of soldiers who were killed inside the command center were taken by the military to visit it in December. Parents expressed their frustrations to Channel 12 then that steps could have been taken to better ensure their children’s safety.

“At the end of the day, I enlisted to protect the country and if needed, I will die for the country but it’s a problem to send surveillance soldiers without weapons training to a place like this,” said Maya.

“We were not abandoned,” said Lt. Y. “This was our task. We were supposed to protect these towns, these citizens, and everyone who was murdered here.”

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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