A new account of exemplary heroism has been revealed in the annals of bravery recorded during Operation Protective Edge – one fearless IDF fighter went down alone into an active Hamas terror tunnel, armed only with a pistol and a flashlight.
Sergeant Ohad of the Yahalom special military engineering unit will be awarded a citation of honor of the Southern Command on Monday night, becoming one of 53 officers and non-commissioned officers receiving the citations in a special ceremony at the coastal Palmachim Airbase.
Ohad recounted his daring actions to defend the Jewish state in an interview with Yedioth Aharonot, going back to the early days of the operation when the IDF was confronted with a race against time to locate the exact courses of the 30-odd terror tunnels, after several Hamas cells emerged from the tunnels on Israeli territory.
His unit was dispatched to the opening of the one of the tunnels outside southern Gaza that had just been discovered during the nighttime hours. There was a great fear that Hamas would hurry to send one of its elite terror cells in the coming hours to attack via the tunnel.
Intel on the tunnel was very spotty, with the IDF in the dark as to the tunnel's dimensions, whether it branched off, whether there were armed Hamas terrorists lying in wait inside – or whether it had been booby-trapped with explosives. Robots were first sent to investigate but had trouble navigating the tight tunnel.
It was then decided that the only way to get the needed information was to send down a lone soldier to document the dimensions of the tunnel. "Immediately, I volunteered," recalled Ohad.
"We wanted to get the drop on the enemy, so that terrorists wouldn't exit from this tunnel," Ohad said. "I got ready for all possibilities and responses, like coming across terrorists below and explosives hidden there. I was well briefed and felt how my friends were giving me the best back-up as a rescue force from above that I could receive."
Armed only with a pistol
Ohad then descended into the depths of the tunnel alone, without his flak jacket or M-16 semi-automatic assault rifle due to the tight confines. He was armed only with a drawn pistol, a helmet, a flashlight, a Go-Pro camera – and limitless courage.
"The circle of light from above began to grow farther and the depth we anticipated turned out to actually be much deeper," said the sergeant. "I heard my commanders very well from above, even without the communications devices, due to the resonance in the shaft."
Ohad reached the bottom and after confirming that it was safe switched on his flashlight. His reconnaissance, which was supposed to take ten minutes, ended up lasting an hour.
Aware of the constant danger of Hamas terrorists springing out of nowhere and outnumbering him, Ohad documented the dimensions of the tunnel.
"I was focused on the mission, although sometimes the thought that I might be abducted crossed my mind," he admitted. "Therefore I was prepared and highly alert. I didn't look at my watch – no one promised me that the tunnel was clean of terrorists."
His comrades above waited prepared for any scenario, and didn't leave even when they came under mortar fire. "I calmed them (saying) that everything was okay with me, that I have enough oxygen. Every whisper put me on alert," said Ohad.
Doing it again – and finding a surprise
Ohad completed his mission, providing details on the dimensions of the attack tunnel. However, the commanders overseeing the mission asked him two days later to go back down again and gather additional intelligence information.
A surprise was waiting for the sergeant the second time.
"The agreement was that if I saw any kind of change in the tunnel I would return above," he recalled. "And indeed in the second descent I immediately saw equipment and tools that terrorists who were in the site within the last two days had left behind."
Ohad immediately let his comrades know he was returning and ascended from the tunnel, completing his mission with flying colors for the second time.
"The intelligence that I provided was enough in order for our unit to detonate the tunnel within hours, instead of days," Ohad reported.
In addition to impeccable bravery Ohad also displayed great humility and discretion; his parents didn't know about his dangerous mission until an announcement was released a week and a half ago.