IDF rescues four hostages from Hamas captivity in daring Gaza operation

Noa Argamani, Almog Meir, Andrey Kozlov, and Shlomi Ziv rescued; Unclear number of Palestinian terrorists, civilians killed.

Shlomi Ziv, Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov, and Noa Argamani reunite with their families upon their return from Gaza captivity after a successful Israeli rescue mission (IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Four hostages were rescued simultaneously from two separate nearby locations in Nuseirat in central Gaza, in a high-risk joint operation by the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Yamam and police in broad daylight, the IDF announced in a series of statements on Saturday.

Regarding the third such successful operation to rescue hostages since the war started on October 7, the IDF said that the rescued hostages were Noa Argamani (25), Almog Meir (21), Andrey Kozlov (27) and Shlomi Ziv (40), all of whom were kidnapped by Hamas to the Gaza Strip from the Supernova festival.

An unknown number of Palestinian terrorists and civilians were killed during the operation. The IDF implied that dozens of terrorists were killed, but left open the possibility that potentially some dozens of Palestinian civilians might also have been killed.

According to the IDF, around 90 Palestinians were likely killed, but the complexity of the hostages being held in civilian areas and a certain amount of chaos at points of the operation left the breakdown of terrorists to civilians unclear, with Hamas claiming the number was closer to 210, but not providing any verifiable evidence.

The heroic operation put a new wind into the sails of the IDF and the Israeli public, but also will likely lead Hamas to improve its guard on other hostages, and it was unclear whether this would impact the broader strategic situation in which Hamas has held huge leverage over Israel by virtue of the around 120 hostages it still holds.

  A Palestinian fighter from the armed wing of Hamas takes part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. (credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
A Palestinian fighter from the armed wing of Hamas takes part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. (credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

Relating to the operation, the military said, “The hostages were rescued by Shin Bet and Yamam fighters from two different locations in an operation in the heart of Nuseirat. Their medical condition is stable, and they have been transferred for further medical examinations at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer. Security forces will continue to make every effort to bring back the hostages.”

Later, in a televised statement, IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari spoke on the heroic operation, saying that “the IDF and Yamam infiltrated two facilities while under fire by Hamas terrorists. A Yamam soldier was seriously injured in the operation and has just reached the hospital. We pray for his well-being.”

Rescue under gunfire

Chief Inspector Arnon Zamora, 36, the Yamam fighter who was wounded in Saturday’s hostage rescue operation, succumbed to his wounds at the hospital, the Israel Police announced later on Saturday.

The operation to free Argamani went off without much of a hitch, but the operation to free the other three hostages in a separate building around two meters away led to a significant exchange of gunfire in which Zamora was wounded. Both buildings were around three to four stories high.

The operation started to be planned months ago, but was delayed a number of times to improve the exact intelligence about the whereabouts, risks, and security parameters related to rescuing the hostages.

At one point, the operation was going to be only to rescue Argamani, but at a later stage it was decided to carry out a higher risk, simultaneous operation in both locations, lest Hamas guards in the second location kill the other three hostages, hearing there was a nearby IDF attack, and not realizing that they were not part of the operation.

Part of the operation was also facilitated by the fact that the hostages were being held in civilian apartments above ground, as opposed to tunnels, where many other hostages are held.

On the other hand, the fact that some of those holding the hostages were not official members of Hamas, but civilians who were paid to supervise them to better conceal their location, created complications for the entire operation.

The operation was finally approved in principle by the war cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and National Unity Party officials Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot (both former IDF chiefs) on Thursday night.

Around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar ordered the operation to be executed from a joint operations command center, with a belief that in this specific case, an operation in broad daylight would achieve greater surprise, despite the additional risks of being seen more vividly in daylight than in a nighttime operation.

Further, after all four hostages were taken out of the locations they were being held and brought into a land escape vehicle, the vehicle got stuck.

At this point, the hostages were more exposed and the entire operation could have ended in disaster with at least dozens of terrorists descending on them and on IDF rescue forces, with some of the terrorists armed with rocket propelled grenades that could kill both the ground rescue forces and destroy rescue helicopters.

In response, additional forces of IDF Division 98 and the air force let loose a massive barrage of fire.

Any Hamas terrorists who tried to attack the hostages and the initial IDF rescue force were killed, potentially along with civilians.

Because this part of the operation was not only unplanned, but occurred under tremendous time pressure and in a mixed terrorist-civilian area, the IDF still does not know the exact breakdown of Palestinian terrorists to civilians killed.

However, both in this and some past instances, the military was suspicious that Hamas was inflating the numbers of civilians to cover up its embarrassing military losses and to try to tar Israel’s legitimacy globally.

The mix of reinforcements and rescue helicopters eventually succeeded in evacuating the IDF forces and the hostages.

Incidentally, it turned out that much of the operations that Division 98 has been carrying out in central Gaza and Nuseirat since the middle of last week was part of an elaborate decoy to make the Hamas terrorists feel like the IDF was nearby, but did not know where the hostages were, while allowing security forces to clandestinely set up a close by rescue operation.

“This operation was a success in rescuing and returning four hostages,” Hagari said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything to return the 120 hostages still held in Gaza."

Addressing the hostages directly, he said that “We are confident that we will reach you, and this operation will not end until you are returned home.

“We will not give up on a single hostage. I want to say that it is a great pride seeing the security forces working together, shoulder to shoulder, in a vital operation: returning the hostages home. When the operation reached this level of intelligence and was approved [by the relevant bodies]... only then were we permitted to proceed. Hamas intentionally hides the hostages in civilian neighborhoods.”

When asked by KAN 11 if there were other hostages with them, he said: “We cannot answer these intelligence questions about other hostages. We must be careful with information security. This operation could have ended very differently.”