A grim picture of IDF conduct during Operation Protective Edge emerged when new details were released Tuesday from an internal military investigation into the "Black Friday" incident in Rafah during Israel's summer war in Gaza. Three soldiers were killed in the incident and the body of one of them, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was taken by Hamas.
The investigation, parts of which were reported on Army Radio on Tuesday morning, found that the Givati Brigade force that was searching the agricultural area near Rafah for terror tunnels was operating in an area not yet seized by the IDF and without heavily armed engineering vehicles, such as the Caterpillar D9.
Senior officers in the GOC Southern Command even expressed regret at the incident, in light of the fact they sent soldiers into enemy territory while under strict limitations imposed by the humanitarian ceasefire in effect in the time - something the reports says Hamas took full advantage of.
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With their hands tied
Engineering company commander Captain S., and the commander of the Orev Company, Maj. D., who was in Rafah that fateful day, expressed their frustration of the way the army dealt with the ceasefire.
"The ceasefire should not have applied to areas where troops were still present, but rather only in areas the IDF has already left," Orev commander Captain S. said.
"This is why the enemy allowed itself to rear its head. Had there not been a ceasefire, Benaya (reconnaissance battalion commander, Maj. Benaya Sarel who was killed in the incident) might have received authorization to fire a tank shell at the area the suspect was seen in.
"When my company identified the suspicious motorcyclist, we asked for authorization to fire at him, but did not receive it," he said.
The Engineer Corps company commander asserted that "where you can't demonstrate enough firepower, you make the enemy feel safer, and this was evident in this incident."
Now, their frustration is getting official expression and confirmation from the final findings of the IDF's investigation.
"I don't see this kind of maneuvering without firepower, without aggressive, heavy artillery," Givati commander Col. Ofer Vinter is quoted in the investigation's report as saying.
Another issue raised in the investigation's findings is the speed and efficacy of the Hamas kidnapping cell.
According to the investigation report, the relatively small force led by Benaya Sarel - which also included Goldin and signal operator Liel Gidoni - was operating around the greenhouse searching for a terror tunnel.
The Hamas force attacked them with two quick and deadly rounds of fire. Before being killed, Goldin and Sarel were able to return fire, kill one of the terrorists and with that probably prevent a double-kidnapping.
"The Hamas cell operated quietly and with skill, in an exercised manner," the report noted.
The entire incident lasted less than a minute, including the snatching of Goldin's body by the terrorist and dragging it into the tunnel.
According to the findings, the troops in the battle field acted quickly and professionally in order to prevent the kidnapping. They reportedly moved quickly to isolate the area, in an attempt to stop the terrorists from getting away with Goldin's body.
"The artillery fired was meant to aid the maneuvering forces disrupt the kidnapping cell's escape, and was done in coordination," the report said.
IDF troops fired close to 2,000 missiles, bombs and shells that morning in Rafah in order to stop the kidnapping attempt.
All in all, IDF cannons fired some 800 shells, most of them high-explosive squash head shells, while the IAF's fighter-jets attacked 19 suspicious targets and a fighter helicopter launched 300 30 mm caliber cannons at specific targets. Ground troops fired 260 mortar shells.
The air assault started at 9:46 am, mere minutes after the Hannibal Directive was declared.
The dilemma Military Advocate General Danny Efroni now faces is whether to open a criminal investigation into the forces' commander, in regards to the Palestinian's claims that over 70 Gaza civilians were wounded as a result of the indiscriminate fire on part of the IDF.
According to additional findings in the investigation, the ensuing IDF fire was disproportional to the severity of the event itself and international law as the assumption was that Goldin was still alive at the time of the pursuit by Givati forces.
Givati Brigade commander Colonel Vinter admitted Tuesday on Army Radio that the forces' entry to the unsecured area, coupled with the Palestinian motorcyclist, led to confusion among the ranks.