Where Was the Israeli Military When Hamas Attacked?

Where Was the Israeli Military When Hamas Attacked?

This group of Hamas gunmen has a clear target: a crucial military operations center.

Gaza-Israel border

Where’s the opening?

Ahmad, it’s here.

Ahmad, it’s here.

OK, go.

Come on.


Say “God is great.”

God is great.


Wait, wait.

Wait, wait, wait.

They make their way from Gaza to the Re’im army base, killing civilians in their path.

Intersection of Route 242 and Route 232

There’s someone in the car.

There’s someone in the car. There’s someone in the car.

Stop right there. Stop right there.

Salef, come shoot these.

This is the heart of all military operations along the Israel-Gaza border.

Outside Re’im base

Give it to me for a little bit.

“Calm down, man.”
“Just for a minute.”

I told him to stay in [indistinct].

Someone should come with me. Someone should come with me.

As terrorists infiltrate the base, the soldiers are unable to coordinate a response across the region.

Inside Re’im base

In this room?

Go in. Go in. Go forward. Go forward.

Throw a grenade. Throw a grenade.

Give me a grenade.

‘What a Mistake’The assault on the Re’im military base left soldiers there fighting for their lives rather than coordinating a response to the invasion.

Re’im is home to the Gaza Division, which oversees all military operations in the region. It is also home to two brigades, northern and southern, dedicated to protecting about 40 miles of the border.

Like other bases, Re’im was understaffed because of the holiday. A brigade commander and key staff were away from the base, according to a senior military officer. They were summoned back before dawn, officials said, as Israeli intelligence officials tried to make sense of unusual Hamas activity just over the border in Gaza.

Many soldiers, though, were allowed to keep sleeping. One told The Times that some did not know they were under attack until Hamas was in their sleeping quarters. Several were killed in their bunks. Others barricaded themselves in safe rooms.

The scope of the catastrophe, if not the attack itself, was preventable, according to records and interviews.

“After they built the fence, they put the headquarters in the middle of the sector,” said General Samia, the former head of the Southern Command. He said the three commanders of the brigades and division never should have been housed together so close to Gaza’s border.


Gen. Yom Tov Samia in 2000.Credit…Havakuk Levison/Reuters“In the same camp, you all had three of them — in the same location,” he said. “What a mistake. What a mistake.”

The Israeli authorities also knew, years in advance, that Hamas planned to take out Re’im as part of its invasion, documents previously obtained by The Times showed. They dismissed that plan, like the prospect of overall invasion, as implausible.

Even in May, when intelligence analysts raised alarms about Hamas training exercises, Israeli officials did not increase troop levels in the South.

The assault on Re’im led to a near blackout of communication inside the unit that coordinates troop movements across southern Israel, according to one soldier who was based there on Oct. 7.

The division that was supposed to be directing the battle was trying not to get overrun.

Even at noon, according to another Southern Command official, officers there did not understand what was happening. They assessed that Hamas had sent about 200 gunmen into Israel. They were off by a factor of 10.

It took the military most of the day to retake control of the Re’im base.

“When your division is under fire, you’re focused on clearing it from terrorists,” said General Ibrahim, the commander of the armored corps, which is based in southern Israel. “It distracts from management of the fighting more broadly.” General Ibrahim defended the military’s response, saying there are few modern armies that could have recaptured the region as quickly as Israel did.

But nobody had trained to repel an invasion.

‘Slowing Our Advance’

Only a few roads connect the towns of southern Israel. Gunmen roam freely along these roadways, including Route 232 and Route 242, on the day of the attack.

Route 242

To heaven, to heaven.

[Indistinct name] will take it.

To heaven. To heaven.

To heaven [indistinct]

Our jeeps are there. Our jeeps are there.

Abu Ahmad.

Abu Ahmad. Our jeeps are there.

Abu Ahmad, our jeeps are there.

They’re descending.

Hamas gunmen terrorize motorists, opening fire on passing vehicles,

Route 242

and gather at major intersections, sowing chaos and taking control of main traffic arteries.

CCTV footage outside Sderot

The mayhem on the roads impedes a faster response by the military, and hours will pass before it establishes control of the routes.

CCTV footage from the front gate of Kibbutz Sa’ad

Hamas understood how to use Israel’s geography against its military.

Despite the siege of Re’im, reinforcements were not far away. Thousands of soldiers were less than 40 minutes from the towns that were under attack. But as terrified citizens waited in bunkers or hid from gunmen, Israeli soldiers were hung up on the highway, unable to reach them.

A central highway connects military bases in the center and south of the country to the communities near Gaza. Pockets of Hamas gunmen set up ambushes along the route, videos from Pandora show. Israeli commanders were hesitant to send soldiers into those traps, according to two Israeli military officers who took part in conversations that morning.

“Hamas is all over the roads,” one Israeli soldier reported in a conversation recounted by a participant. “They own the street, not us.”

One of the deadliest junctions was Sha’ar HaNegev, the intersection of two main arteries leading to the besieged towns and communities known as kibbutzim. Hamas seized the junction by killing motorists, setting fire to their cars and blocking roads, according to military officials and videos.

“Every encounter at the intersections resulted in the killing of the terrorists and slowing our advance,” said Mr. Ansbacher, the counterterrorism reservist, recounting the team’s frustrating progress.

“As we go along, we understand that we are really delayed. In the kibbutzim, they need us and people are getting killed.”

Fog of WarThe elite Maglan commando unit operates out of a base about 25 minutes from Gaza.

Its deputy commander activated the unit at about 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7, according to one officer familiar with the operations that day. But the team received little guidance from top Israeli generals or the Gaza Division headquarters, which, they did not realize, was itself under attack.

Maglan’s commandos specialized in operating behind enemy lines, where Israel always expected the fighting to occur. None of them had trained to respond to an invasion, the officer said.

The officer said there were no “concrete missions.” Soldiers were told to “just take a gun” and “save people.”

With communication out of Re’im disrupted and military leaders in Tel Aviv struggling to understand the scope of the attack, Maglan turned to an unlikely source for information: Refael Hayun, a 40-year-old who lived with his parents in Netivot, about five miles from Gaza.


Refael Hayun in his bedroom in Netivot, Israel, last week.Credit…via Refael HayunMr. Hayun watched Hamas videos of the attack in real time on social media and relayed information to Maglan’s officers.  » …
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