Too Many Soldiers, Too Close to the Gaza Border

Setting up a staging area within close range of Gaza left Israeli fighters especially vulnerable.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Working on armored vehicles close to the Gaza border.Credit: AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Monday’s mortar attack that killed four soldiers and wounded several more highlighted the problem of concentrating large forces in a staging area so close to the Gaza Strip.

The agricultural area in the Eshkol regional council used by the Israel Defense Forces for this purpose is vulnerable to mortar fire. There is a constant flow of soldiers going in and out of the area, as the IDF rotates troops out of a Gaza to give them a breather and restock their ammunition, food and fuel. The large number of soldiers in the area also draws civilians such as relatives and people bringing food and gifts — all of which turns such staging areas into attractive targets.

Monday’s incident wasn’t the first time rockets or mortars fired at an IDF staging area have resulted in multiple casualties. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, a Katyusha rocket hit a group of reservists waiting to go into Lebanon, killing 12 of them. During Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in 2012, a rocket launched at the Eshkol region killed one regular soldier, one reservist and a Defense Ministry contractor.

After Pillar of Defense, the IDF said it would move its staging area farther away from Gaza, out of range of most Palestinian rockets. And in fact, while it was preparing to launch the current ground operation, it did concentrate its troops out of range of short-range rockets. But as the operation progressed and the army started rotating troops out of Gaza for a break, it once again began concentrating them near the border.

The IDF stationed warning devices to alert the soldiers to incoming rockets and mortars. But according to soldiers who were present during Monday’s incident, no alert sounded before the mortar hit.

A visit to the border yesterday revealed that some of the troops had once again been moved farther away.