Nine months after one of the most difficult nights of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Yediot Aharonoth and Channel 10 have published part of the IDF's investigation into the kidnapping and death of Sgt. Oron Shaul.
On July 20, Golani Brigade, armor and engineering corps forces were met with effective close range guerrilla actions in Shejaiya, Gaza. Thirteen soldiers were killed when a bomb detonated below an armored personnel carrier (APC); the bodies of First Sgt. Shaul and Second Lt. Hadar Goldin were kidnapped by Hamas.
On Monday, soldiers who survived the attack revealed that there were communications issues between the tanks - and that's where the trouble began.
One of the APCs became stuck, a soldier stated during the interview, and no one could find a tow cable.
Commander Ohad Rosefeld, who was driving the stuck APC, left the vehicle along with a comrade and approached the commander of the operational APC beside him for help. The two agreed that one APC would demolish a terrorists' home in the adjacent neighborhood, and that the other would cover in the event there was a shootout.
As soon as the mission began, the drama flared.
"About 1.5 or 2 meters before I got back to my APC, the APC exploded," Ohad recounted. "They shot at us an RPG missile that hit the engine of the carrier, causing an explosion. I was left without a weapon, lying wounded - my legs were paralyzed and I couldn't move."
"I took a grenade from our arsenal and was lying there with my hand on the pin," he added.
G., another anonymous soldier who survived the attack, corroborated the account.
"Suddenly I see like a comet flying and hits an APC," he recalled. "No one knew exactly where the soldiers were. Ohad said he had seen two soldiers outside the APC, but so far the IDF couldn't verify that." The IDF believed that all the soldiers killed were in the APC at the missile hit it.
"Immediately after the missile hit, heavy Kalashnikov fire began at us," says G. "I see Ohad's APC is on fire and I'm yelling, 'I have an APC on fire, all crew dead. I just cannot believe what I saw."
Sgt. Aaron Omar (23), also a commander of the APC which was hit, watched his vehicle burn.
"I realized we had to continue forward and alert the rest," he said. "We couldn't just watch our friends get burned, but we must continue the operation."
Ohad's company realized he was injured, so they began to move him. "Ohad's fellow soldier recognized me as a figure approaching, and thought it was a terrorist, and pointed his weapon at me,"G. said. "He asked Ohad permission to open fire, but Ohad asked him to describe the silhouette approaching - and at the last moment, just before he pulled the trigger, [Ohad] told him it was me and not shoot."
"He saved my life; one second later, they would have killed me."
G., he claimed, announced at this time initiation of the Hannibal protocol - which determines a number of regulations in the case of the kidnapping of a soldier concern and is intended to prevent the abduction of the soldier or his body parts.
"There are seven missing", G. said, "I'm worried it's Hannibal."
However, the Golani Brigade Commander Colonel Ghassan Alian replied that such a procedure had not been announced; the IDF replied as well that an operation to that end would disrupt the missions of three separate units, in any event. In retrospect, the IDF determined that it was in these moments in which a Hamas cell managed to snatch the body of Sergeant Oron Saul.
At the same time, the troops were shot at from all sides.
G. tried to direct the Tanks commander to come help them, but the Captain did not find the trapped troops due to the same navigational error that led the two APCs off course to begin with. Soldiers who survived stated that it took 40 minutes for reinforcements to arrive, even though they had been something like 400 meters away.
"The company commander's tank has a doctor, and in the meantime Ohad began to lose consciousness," G. said. "He received a bunch of shots to his legs, he broke two vertebrae and had shrapnel in the back of the hand."
"The medic stopped the bleeding. But the company commander and the doctor did not come."
When the tanks come, G. and other fighters tried to extinguish the fire with fire extinguishers.
"Very quickly we understood what's going on there," G. said. "There were no whole bodies, they were all destroyed, and the attempt to put out the APC with was pathetic."
"Three soldiers who were with me were just shocked, and did not move. Shell shock," he added.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Alkabetz arrived 50 minutes after the APC explosion.
"I came as soon as I realized what had happened," Alkabetz stated, and rejected the argument that he took a long time, "It took me 20 to 25 minutes to arrive. I saw the entire APC burnt, and the bodies of some soldiers still burning. I saw some soldiers from the APC survived."
Alkabetz began a preliminary investigation to determine what happened.
A debate still rages on whether Alkabetz took too long to reach the site. Some soldiers believe he had, although they qualify their accusations with an acknowledgement of the chaos around them; others disagree. Gen. Alian supports Alkabetz's version of events.
Problems also arose due to logistics. APCs and Hummers are vulnerable to antitank fire, soldiers stated, and initially the first choice was to use ground troops for the operation, with Namers, or specially-equipped APCs that would be impervious to antitank fire. Regular APCs were sent in instead, however, due to a shortage of available armored vehicles; Alkabetz reportedly shut down objections by combat soldiers buy saying, "I do not have time for games."
The IDF has denied wrongdoings by trading out the heavy APCs for regular APCs.