Video footage posted Tuesday on Israel's Ynet website of the battle in Rafah during Israel's Operation Protective Edge provides fascinating food for thought. The footage constitutes authentic documentation of two main developments in the battle, which began with the deaths of three fighters from the Israel Defense Forces Givati Brigade, and the kidnapping on Friday, August 1 of the body of one of them, Lt. Hadar Goldin.
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The clips show the great effort and risk assumed by the forces’ commanders and soldiers, and the intensive use of fire aimed at the heart of a populated Palestinian area, in order to prevent the kidnapping.
Specifically, in the videos we hear some of the communications recordings that documented Givati activity in Rafah, just minutes after Goldin was kidnapped by Hamas soldiers who escaped with him via a tunnel.
Lt. Col Eli Gino, commander of Givati's reconnaissance battalion, is heard saying: "The assignment is simple. A reconnaissance officer [referring to Lt. Eitan Fund] will join up with you, go inside once again and bring out the uniform."
The search inside the tunnel was ordered to uncover any possible evidence about Goldin's condition. In the video clips Lt. Col. Gino is heard issuing an update to the effect that forces from the General Staff's elite commando unit would also join in the activity at the scene.
The Ynet footage also allows viewers to hear the reactions of some of the commanders to the use of fire. "I repeat, stop the shooting! You're shooting like retards. You'll kill one another. Enough! I already have dead [soldiers], retards. Wait a minute ...," the brigade commander can be heard demanding on the two-way radio.
The video footage was not officially handed over to the website by the IDF spokesman – a fact that only reinforces the achievement of reporter Yoav Zeitoun in publicizing them. Apparently in the wake of the military investigation into the fighting in Rafah, the tapes were transferred to the bereaved families whose sons were killed there, and to others.
There are also many other players in the Rafah story, including a second lieutenant in Givati, whose family last week demanded that he not be shortchanged and also be awarded a medal of honor, in light of the apparent intention to award such a citation to First Lt. Eitan Fund. Fund was deputy commander of the Givati commando unit that entered the tunnel in pursuit of Goldin’s kidnappers.
An abridged version of the recording, including English subtitles:
The timing of the posting of these video clips cannot be ignored. It is taking place after two weeks during which the Givati Brigade has been in the headlines for two reasons – because of an investigation into incidents in its Tzabar Battalion (mainly, the suspicion of sexual harassment), as a result of which its commander, Lt. Col. Liran Hajbi, has already been ousted; and because of the upcoming decision by the IDF military advocate general as to whether to launch a Military Police investigation of the battle in Rafah.
The so-called Black Friday in Rafah is apparently the most sensitive event in the war in the Gaza Strip last summer. The heroism of Lt. Fund and others was accompanied by a very aggressive implementation of the “Hannibal procedure” – an army protocol that calls for the massive use of force in an effort to rescue a captured soldier, even at risk to his life.
According to Palestinian sources, the tremendous use of fire led to the deaths of 130 to 150 Palestinians, most of them civilians (the IDF, for its part, estimates that the real number of fatalities is lower, at least by half).
Although Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni has already ordered another 13 Military Police investigations related to the Gaza operation, most are connected to the killing of civilians.
With respect to the recent Tzabar affair, Efroni ordered the Military Police to question Col. Ofer Winter, the Givati Brigade commander, under caution, on suspicion that he covered up complaints against battalion commander Hajbi. Shortly afterward, the MAG decided to close the criminal file against Winter (altough the criminal investigation Hajbi is continuing and liable to end with a trial). Efroni’s decision regarding Winter aroused harsh criticism among some field commanders.
Top brass-MAG tensions
During the term of incumbent Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Efroni had complete freedom of action, without any intervention in his decisions. His independence led to a clash with many top brass, which is now at its peak. The real tension between the MAG and the commanders stems from various investigations into Operation Protective Edge, which may include an inquiry into the incidents of Black Friday.
Now we are witnessing the second battle of Rafah, and it is being waged in the corridors of the General Staff and in the media, rather than in the field. We can assume that the following is one of the arguments that the person who leaked the tapes now, of all times, is trying to put forward: Who dares to investigate such heroic commanders – and on the basis of what accusations?
The question of the investigations of the Tzabar Battalion and various Gaza incidents hovered above the convening of the IDF operational forum on Monday, in which all unit commanders from the level of battalion and up participated, and which was devoted to the lessons of this summer's war in the Strip.
Gantz said in his speech there that even the most daring and outstanding operational commander “even someone like [legendary IDF soldier] Meir Har-Tzion,” must abide by the ethical standards determined by the army.
Then he explained that the famous quotation by David Ben-Gurion – "Let every Jewish mother know that she has entrusted her son's lives into the hands of worthy officers" – also applies, in his opinion, to the fate of female soldiers.
The pointed comments by the chief of staff, along with posting of the video footage Tuesday morning, strengthen the assessment that discussion of the various Givati affairs, which differ greatly from one another, is far from a conclusion.