To mark one year since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's 50-day counterterrorism operation in Gaza last summer, the IDF has released previously classified recordings from before and during one of the most infamous battles of the campaign.
Among the declassified recordings, which can be accessed below, are the dramatic minutes of IDF radio exchanges during a Hamas ambush in Rafiah in which three IDF soldiers were killed, among them 23-year-old officer Lt. Hadar Goldin, whose body was seized by Hamas and has yet to be recovered.
Another declassified item is video footage from the helmet of IDF Major Benaya Sarel, taken hours before the fateful battle. Sarel, a 27-year-old resident of Kiryat Arba and a commander in the Givati Brigade's elite reconnaissance unit, was killed along with 20-year-old Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, when Hamas terrorists cynically breached a humanitarian ceasefire declared just one hour before to attack their unit.
Sarel was a graduate of the Mekor Haim yeshiva in Gush Etzion – the same religious-Zionist yeshiva attended by two of the three Israeli teens whose abduction and murder by Hamas one month before triggered the escalation which eventually lead to all-out war between Israel and Hamas.
Goldin, a resident of Kfar Saba, went missing during the chaotic battle which ensued, having been dragged underground by terrorists into a hidden tunnel, and was officially declared killed in action some days after. Hamas has confirmed it still holds his remains, and is refusing to return them for burial in Israel.
Listen – Radio from battle in Rafiah:
Watch – Footage from Major Benaya Sarel, showing his elite reconnaissance unit operating in Gaza hours before the battle:
Operation Protective Edge began with an air campaign on July 8, 2014, in response to escalated rocket fire by Islamist terrorists in Gaza against Israeli civilians in southern and central Israel.
It soon expanded into a ground invasion, as the IDF sought both to reach rocket positions embedded deep in civilian areas which could not be neutralized by air, as well as to take out Hamas's vast network of "terror tunnels" into Israel, for use in deadly attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.
The campaign, in which 67 Israeli soldiers and five Israeli civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded, was punctuated by numerous, short-lived ceasefires. The truces were broken regularly by terrorists, despite their purpose being to alleviate the threat to Gazan civilians who were often being used as human shields.
One such "humanitarian ceasefire" took place on August 1. On its official blog, the IDF relates what happened shortly after to a Givati infantry unit operating in the southern Gazan city of Rafiah, as told by "Lt. Eitan" – the soldier who heroically followed Goldin into a Hamas tunnel in an attempt to save him:
At around 8:00 AM on Friday August 1, it was announced that Israel and Hamas had reached a temporary ceasefire. Taking advantage of the relative calm of the ceasefire, Lt. Eitan and his fellow soldiers, who had not slept for 24 hours, took turns sleeping while others guarded and inspected houses thought to have been used for terror activity.
During one of those inspections, the soldiers’ commander, Maj. Sarel, noticed that a terrorist was watching from the roof of another house. Accompanied by First Sgt. Lial Gidoni and Lt. Hadar Goldin, he approached the terrorist to assess the danger.
Suddenly, terrorists opened fire at the soldiers and the sound of an explosion resonated throughout the area. There was confusion among other forces in the vicinity who did not understand what was happening. Hamas terrorists had violated the ceasefire.
Lt. Eitan and his soldiers, who were not far away, immediately went to assist. “When I arrived, I saw two of our soldiers being taken into a house,” Lt. Eitan said. “It was the same moment that we were told that we had found a tunnel opening at the location. Fearing a possible explosion, I ordered everyone to get away.”
“No one really knew what had happened but suddenly someone shouted: ‘Goldin’s gone, Goldin’s disappeared!’ We quickly started counting soldiers and everyone was present except one: Goldin was missing.”
At that moment, Lt. Eitan realized that terrorists had kidnapped Lt. Goldin by dragging him into a tunnel. He regrouped his unit and told them that two officers had been killed and that another soldier had likely been kidnapped. A deafening silence filled the room. “I have never experienced anything so difficult,” Lt. Eitan said.
At great personal risk, Lt. Eitan plunged into the tunnel after his comrade, in a vain attempt to locate him. Due to the narrowness of the tunnel he was forced to enter without his body armor and armed just with a pistol.
Lt. Eitan was awarded the Medal of Courage – the IDF's second most prestigious honor – in recognition of his courageous actions.