The IDF permitted the disclosure of what happened on the most deadly day of Operation Protective Edge thus far, last week, during which 13 Golani soldiers fell in battle and many others were wounded.
Apparently, it was only a hair’s breadth away from a tragedy of much greater proportions. The Golani soldiers who were killed, and their comrades who survived the battle, were surrounded on all sides by armed Hamas terrorists, who were very familiar with the territory and who opened heavy fire on the soldiers. Six hundred artillery shells had to be used to rescue the soldiers from the trap.
The investigation shows that the army suggested that the air force bombard the area of activity before the Golani soldiers entered, but the government legal advisors did not allow them to for fear that civilians would be harmed. Thus it emerged that forces went into action in the Saajaiya neighborhood, which is crawling with terrorists, without the area having been “cleaned out” first. In a short time, they fell into a deadly trap.
Dozens of terrorists came within a few steps of Israeli soldiers, and a face to face clash ensued at almost point-blank range.
The soldiers had to take cover, mostly in military vehicles that they had come in, and the terrorists did not stop firing the entire time.
Having no choice, the IDF commanders who were outside the battle zone, realized they had to intervene quickly to spare the lives of all the soldiers. They ordered the Golani soldiers to take cover in their vehicles while tanks fired 600 artillery shells over the entire radius where the soldiers were, forming a “carpet of fire” that would harm the terrorists.
The decision to do so was taken despite the tremendous danger that one or more of the shells was liable to hit an Israeli soldier.
A senior official in the artillery corps said yesterday that “we ordered the forces in the zone to enter protected vehicles and to stay there for an hour. We activated three artillery battalions that fired with tremendous intensity. Only by doing this were we able to scare off the Hamas terrorists, and another force joined up with the Golani unit and extracted them.
“We took a great risk by doing this,” the officer said, “but we had no choice. Only during the second stage did aircraft join the fray, and together, we killed at least 15 terrorists. We later saw their bodies scattered at the scene. It is a rarity that we make this decision.” The army does not remember the last time they needed to open artillery fire to extract soldiers from a danger zone.
“We realized that there were Hamas terrorists within a range of 40 to 100 meters from the forces, and therefore, we fired the 600 artillery shells at them. We fired carefully. We had the backing of senior commanders, despite the risk of harming our own forces, who were protecting themselves. This decision could have cost us dearly,” he said.
“The attack was conducted from a very small safety range of just dozens of meters from our force, when usually, such fire is only approved at security ranges of 250 meters, when there are forces in reinforced vehicles, and from distances of 350 meters in open areas.”
Our military reporter emphasizes that the Hamas terrorists in Saajaiya were the most highly trained forces in the Gaza Strip. Throughout that battle and other ones, the force was almost completely decimated, as 150 fighters were killed — including senior terrorists — in air strikes, ground artillery and in fighting.