Friendly fire killed IDF officer in botched Gaza operation

The IDF will implement changes in light of an investigation into the undercover mission that ended with a senior officer dead and another wounded.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The IDF’s investigation into its undercover operation in the Gaza Strip eight months ago that ended with a senior officer’s death has concluded that he was killed by friendly fire.

An elite force entered Khan Yunis on November 11, 2018, to carry out “a lengthy operation,” the army said. Hamas has alleged that the aim was to plant listening devices on its communications network. The small force was discovered before it could execute the mission, leading to a gunfight between the IDF soldiers and a group of terrorists.

The investigation found that during a 90-second exchange of fire, Lieutenant Col. M. was shot and killed by members of his own team; another officer was moderately wounded. The entire group, including Lt. Col. M.’s body, was airlifted out of the area by helicopter in a dramatic rescue.

Immediately following the incident, Hamas launched over 460 rockets and mortar shells into Israel in a one-day-long barrage. One person was killed and dozens injured.

The army’s investigation “suggests a number of faults in the forces’ execution of their mission, both before and during the operation, which ultimately led to their exposure,” said a statement released by the IDF.

The report includes new details regarding events prior to the gunfight. After the van carrying the IDF soldiers was stopped by suspicious Hamas members, Lt. Col. M. and a comrade were hauled out and questioned for some 45 minutes by senior Hamas officers. Although Lt. Col. M. didn’t break, he understood that the mission was close to being exposed and decided to create a diversion, in all likelihood knowing that this would mean sacrificing his own life to save his team.

Lt. Col. A., who was still in the van, then drew his weapon and killed at least two of the terrorists, but also accidentally killed Lt. Col. M. and wounded his comrade. Seven terrorists were killed, including the local Hamas commander.

Then-Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was monitoring the mission from the command center along with the heads of the General Security Services, the Special Operations branch and other senior officers. At this point they decided to extract the team, with the air force providing cover by hitting 70 targets in the Gaza Strip simultaneously. Only 20 minutes elapsed from the firing of the first bullet until the helicopter with the men landed back in Israel.

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The review committee – headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon and including active senior officers, reservists and officials from the security services – presented their findings on Sunday to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi as well as to the heads of the air force, Military Intelligence, the Operations Directorate and others.

According to the IDF statement, the report drew conclusions and offered recommendations regarding Special Operations planning, preparation and execution. Some are already being carried out, and others will be implemented in a multi-year program being developed as a result of the findings, the statement said.

Although the mission was a failure, the army will recommend that several members of the undercover and rescue team receive commendations for their heroic actions on the field, including Lt. Col. A.