A few days prior to the IDF’s ground offensive launched last month in Gaza, reservists from the Combat Engineering Battalion commanded by Lt.- Col. Udi Elbaz had come home from work, and were having dinner with their families. That evening they received a call, telling them to report for duty. Their battalion was going into Gaza.
“Everyone showed up. They left everything behind: their families, their jobs, and came,” Elbaz told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Elbaz’s battalion was attached to an Armored Corps unit, and both forces entered Gaza together.
Their mission: To locate and destroy tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, which were built by Hamas to massacre Israelis. The tunnels were heavily defended by Hamas guerrilla battalions, who did not intend to allow the IDF to wipe them out without a fight.
“We understood the responsibility. We trained for this,” Elbaz said.
The battalion went to work, under grueling heat, tracking down and destroying Hamas’s tunnels. It didn’t take long before Elbaz and his soldiers came under fire, he said.
“We faced mortars, snipers and automatic weapon fire. A sniper injured a soldier [from a different battalion] who was at our position. Terrorists came out of orchards and opened fire,” Elbaz recounted. “We returned a lot of fire. This was significant combat.”
The Heavy Mechanical Equipment Company, which has armored bulldozers – a key to discovering and destroying tunnels – was singled out by Elbaz for its performance in the war.
“They gave 100 percent of themselves. They spent 17 hours a day on the bulldozer – it was in big demand,” Elbaz said. “Soldiers handled explosives while under mortar fire. They displayed bravery.”
In most cases, the battalion received intelligence about their target, and created a file that contained detailed information.
“We knew how the environment we would enter looked like. Sometimes, we got partial information [about the location of tunnels], and had to complete the search on the ground,” he recalled.
“We were under fire throughout. Whether we were locating a tunnel, or cornering off an area for searches,” Elbaz said. “We feel we did a good job.”