An IDF officer has recounted in detail the dramatic moments he pursued Hamas terrorists into a tunnel in a vain attempt to rescue Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who was last seen being dragged away after an attack in which terrorists breached a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire.
"Lieutenant Eitan", who had got to know Goldin during their IDF officers' course and served in an elite unit of the Givati infantry brigade, told his story to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, which published it on his blog Friday.
During the ceasefire on August 1, Eitan was among a group of soldiers positioned in the southern Gazan city of Rafah. After the ceasefire began soldiers paused military operations to rest, taking turns to stand on guard duty. After spotting an armed terrorist on the roof of nearby house, commander Maj. Sarel approached to gauge the threat to their unit, along with First Sgt. Lial Gidoni and Lt. Hadar Goldin.
Suddenly, terrorists opened fire and, according to later accounts, a suicide bomber detonated himself close to the soldiers. Soldiers returned fire, and Lt. Eitan recalls seeing two soldiers being dragged into a nearby house, though it later emerged that only one - Lt. Goldin - was ultimately taken. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack.
"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," he told the IDF Blog.
Determined not to abandon his comrade, Lt. Eitan drew his weapon and courageously pursued the terrorist cell into their own tunnel.
"The brigade commander, Col. Ofer Vinter, contacted me on the radio, and I told him that I was going into the tunnel to look for Goldin," he recalled.
"I went four meters down into the tunnel when it began to collapse. I could hardly see anything; sand and stones were obscuring the light. I returned to the surface, took my equipment, my helmet and gun, and went back into the tunnel with my soldiers."
Ordering his soldiers to immediately open fire if they sensed any danger, he advanced into the darkness.
"There, I saw Hadar’s blood and his equipment," along with an abandoned gun and several bags blocking his way - one of which was rigged with explosives. A bomb disposal expert was sent to diffuse it.
Even then, he remained undeterred, and issued a chilling order to his men.
"I turned around and said to my commander ‘Count how long I’m here. I will run as fast as possible to reach the tunnel’s entrance. During this time, call the other soldiers into the tunnel. If I’m not back in 5 minutes – I’m dead’."
Firing as he ran to cover himself, Eitan plunged deeper still, finding more weapons and entrances to other tunnels. He was forced to withdraw after around 10 minutes, however, after realizing that the further and more isolated he went the more likely he was to be killed or abducted himself.
After he emerged from the tunnel a search was launched for Goldin, who was later pronounced dead by the IDF rabbinate - in part based on evidence Eitan found during his brave one-man mission.
Despite his courageous actions Lt. Eitan refused to accept a medal for bravery, insisting he was only doing his duty.
"I don't want a medal; I'm no hero," Lt. Eitan stated in a Yediot Aharonot interview earlier this month. "If not me, someone else would have done it."
"This is not some kind of heroic feat," he continued. "This is the essence of being a combat soldier, of being a commander."