A complex mission to retrieve the body of a murdered hostage

The IDF sent its Commando Brigade backed by Merkava 4 tanks and air support to retrieve the corpse of Elad Katzir, whom PIJ murdered in January.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Gaza
Israeli soldiers in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Israeli soldiers in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 14, 2024. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

The complex special forces operation launched on Friday night by the Israel Defense Forces to retrieve the body of murdered Israeli hostage Elad Katzir from Khan Yunis was made possible by an extraordinary degree of intelligence information and precise operational capabilities.

Katzir was brutally kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Oct. 7 assault by Gazan terrorists, together with his mother, Hanna, who was released on Nov. 24 as part of a hostage deal.

“According to the intelligence we have, Elad was murdered by his captors in January,” IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Saturday evening. Katzir’s family was notified on Saturday morning, including on the details of the operation.

The operation’s roots were laid when information from the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate and the Shin Bet reached a level that was sufficient to go into the planning stage, according to an Israeli military official.

The Israeli intelligence evaluation is that Elad was murdered by his captors in mid-January, weeks after Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a video of him alive.

By combining real-time, precise intelligence information, a lead pointing to Katzir’s body was established by the IDF’s Missing Person’s Unit (originally founded after the 1973 Yom Kippur War to track down some 2,000 missing soldiers from that conflict), together with IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet intelligence agency,

Getting the right location was no straightforward task. Initial efforts to do so using aerial reconnaissance failed to locate the right spot, the military official said. But after the Egoz commando unit sent tactical drones to survey the area, the right location was found, based on pre-identified markers and the previous intelligence provided, the official said.

 

On foot in Khan Yunis

Moving to the operational stage, the IDF Commando Brigade conducted a rapid planning session lasting several hours on Friday, before heading out on the mission to bring Katzir’s body home to Israel for burial.

The Commando Brigade unit then headed out, sending out Maglan and Egoz special force operators and the Paratrooper Reconnaissance Unit, and backed by soldiers from the 82nd Armored Battalion, which uses Merkava 4 tanks.

At around 8 p.m. on Friday, the commandos arrived at a specified location in the southern part of Khan Yunis, navigating mostly on foot.

The Maglan Unit and the 82nd Armored Battalion secured the perimeter to isolate the area backed by air activity, while Egoz fighters conducted a thorough search guided by precise intelligence.

The commando unit then began excavating the area in collaboration with the Missing Person’s Unit, locating Katzir’s body in the ground.

The forces then transported the body to the L. Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, also known as the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, for further examination.

“As we announced in the announcement earlier on, 133 Israelis now remain in the clutches of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” Hagari said on Saturday.

“Elad Katzir’s recovery is more than just a mission accomplished. It’s a promise kept to the people of Israel to restore the safety, to bring home the hostages as this war continues,” he added.

“An hour ago, I spoke with Carmit, the sister of Elad Katzir, may his memory be a blessing. She told me in the spirit of her heartfelt post that alongside the consolation over her brother’s burial, she expressed her deep concern for the condition of the hostages, emphasizing that every moment is critical for them,” Hagari said.

Of the 133 hostages still held in the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities believe 34 are now dead.

“We will continue to make every effort to bring them home. We will not miss any opportunity to fulfill our supreme mission of bringing them back home,” Hagari vowed.

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