The problem with friendly fire in war

The mistaken shooting of three escaping Israeli hostages by IDF soldiers is a tragedy. One of many tragedies in this war.

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Photo: IDF
Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Photo: IDF

As we reported on our Telegram channel over the weekend, three Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip were mistaken for a threat by Israeli soldiers and shot. A tragedy, three more young Israelis lost their lives. This was not a suicide attack, this was not a case of so-called “friendly fire.” It was something different. Yet this “friendly fire” has become a scourge of war.

The three hostages were identified as Yotam Haim (28) and Alon Shamriz (26), who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza in the barbaric attack on October 7th, and the Bedouin Samer El-Talalqa (24), who was taken from Kibbutz Nir Am. The exact circumstances are still unclear, but the Israeli army spokesman said last night: “During the fighting in Shejaiya, troops mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat. The troops then shot at them and killed them.” Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said it was assumed that the three had either fled from their captors or had been abandoned. “They may have reached this area in the last few days or over the past day, but we don’t know.”

Initial investigations into the incident revealed that one of the abductees signaled surrender, but a sniper shot at him despite orders not to open fire. One of the hostages, who was hiding in a building from which cries for help could be heard, came out at the soldiers’ request and was shot at close range. A few hundred meters from the scene, a building with Hebrew graffiti “SOS”, “Rescue” and “Hostages” was discovered, but was not examined for fear of an ambush.

The tragic incident was not a matter of what we might call “friendly fire,” but rather the fact that none of the Israeli soldiers had any idea that in the middle of the firefight three abducted Israelis might suddenly appear and ran toward them to be rescued. No one knows exactly what happened on the battlefield in those critical seconds, but it is quite possible that the Hamas terrorists deliberately set this tragic stage in order to create even more pain in Israeli society. Hamas is very good at playing on the emotions of Israelis because, unlike Hamas and the Palestinian people, we in Israel glorify life, and not death.

That same evening, even though it was Shabbat, there was a spontaneous demonstration in front of the Israeli “Pentagon” (the Kirya) in Tel Aviv. The families of those abducted are begging the government for help. They want the government to save their loved ones at any cost, even a hostage exchange deal that would give the Hamas leadership the ceasefire it so desperately needs. Not for the benefit of the Palestinian civilian population, but primarily for the benefit of the terrorist leaders. The Hamas leadership doesn’t give a damn about the civilian population, and Hamas leaders themselves admitted this on camera.

Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv on Friday evening (December 15, 2023) for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Hamas is not an easy enemy, it is cruel to the weak and cowardly toward the soldiers on the battlefield. I’ve heard this from all the soldiers fighting in Gaza. This explains the many images and videos of Palestinian terrorists surrendering with their hands and weapons raised, sometimes in their underpants, sometimes with their clothes on. And the most cowardly is the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, which hides like rabbits in the underground terror tunnels. The entire area around Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip is surrounded by Israeli forces, and they are tightening the noose.

The fighting in these areas of the Gaza Strip is not easy, precisely because it is a very densely populated residential area and the terrorists crawl out of the tunnel shafts and attack the soldiers. A lot of troops are fighting in the Gaza Strip and there is shooting everywhere and everyone is under suspicion. And in such situations there is often mistaken fire on one’s own or allied forces. The reasons for friendly fire are often inadequate target recognition due to poor visibility, communication problems, the fog of war, technical or human error. Artillery and air strikes are also often responsible for friendly fire.

Photo: IDF

According to the Israeli army, of the 120 Israeli soldiers (as of Sunday morning) who have been killed so far in the ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, 20 died from so-called friendly fire and other accidents. Thirteen were killed by friendly fire due to confusion between air strikes. Two soldiers were killed in incidents involving armored vehicles running over troops. And two soldiers were killed by shrapnel from explosive devices detonated by Israeli forces. According to the Israel Defense Forces, there are a variety of reasons for the fatal accidents, including the large number of troops operating in the Gaza Strip, communication problems between troops and fatigued soldiers not following regulations.

For weeks I have been hearing from various sources and officers that friendly fire is a real problem in Gaza, and unofficial sources say the number of soldiers killed in such incidents is even higher than what’s being reported. It’s not talked about loudly in the media, but it is mentioned. Although Israel is fighting this war with all technological means, “friendly fire” continues to occur between the numerous units on the ground in the Gaza Strip. But what was reported over the weekend, the mistaken shooting of three escaping Israeli hostages by Israeli soldiers, is a tragedy. One of many tragedies in this war.