October 17, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

Overwhelmed: The IDF’s first hours fighting the terror waves on Oct 7

Israel believes this will be a long war. Many questions remain about the response at the border.
October 17, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

Overwhelmed: The IDF’s first hours fighting the terror waves on Oct 7

Israel believes this will be a long war. Many questions remain about the response at the border.

The yellow gate of Kibbutz Beeri is burned. It is half open now and IDF vehicles flow back and forth. What was once a thriving community is now empty of civilians.

The fields are full of gear, backpacks, and other necessities for war. It’s also calm here. The winter months are coming and the clouds above give a crisp air, to this otherwise sweltering hot area near the Gaza border.

It was here that waves of Hamas members and other terrorists from Gaza burst through into Israel on the early morning of October 7. Kibbutz Beeri, Kfar Aza, and several other Israeli communities became ground zero for the massacre that took place.

The IDF fought at numerous sites along the border on that morning, trying to stem the tide of the attack. Golani soldiers from the 51st and 13th battalions fought along 30km of the border at numerous points and took heavy casualties between October 7 and 9.

Dozens of the soldiers from these units were killed, the IDF website for the fallen lists seventy soldiers from Golani as victims in the battles of the first days of the war. They fought to stop the terrorists and helped prevent worse horrors from unfolding. However, even as they fought this delaying action and bases and outposts were overrun, more than 1,000 civilians were massacred in various places.  

Scenes of horror in the south

To get to this site of horror we drove down from Urim, a small community near Ofakim. There are checkpoints near Ofakim and many communities have police at their entrance, a sign that the terror threat remains.

It is day ten of the war. The overwhelming might of the IDF is now here. However, ten days ago this was a scene of chaos and slaughter. This whole road that leads down to Kibbutz Re’im, and then runs along the Gaza border, inland several kilometers from the border itself, was a road of death and massacre on October 7.

It was here that Hamas sent men on motorcycles and trucks to surround concertgoers at the Nova festival. Shelters near the bus stops, decorated and donated with support from abroad, became centers of death as terrorists tossed grenades into them and shot the people sheltering in them.  

The commanders on this frontline faced a long sector to defend. It was divided into two pieces, the northern and southern sectors under the Gaza division, anchored at fortified areas along the line such as Kissufim and Nahal Oz.

A battalion of men, several hundred fighters, held each sector.

This spread the soldiers thin. It was Simchat Torah and Shabbat a weekend that was supposed to be quiet. The 51st battalion of the Golani had a Seyeret or recon unit at Kerem Shalom as well, near the Egyptian border. There was another unit at the Yiftach base near Zikim. The Home Front has a base at Zikim as well.

Dead surprise attack 

The soldiers had no indication of the attack. They were not warned or put on alert. If they’d had just an hour to prepare they could have brought forces to bear where necessary against the impending threat and neutralized some of it.

They could have called in air force assets to decimate the 2,900 terrorists gathering near the border at five in the morning. Those terrorists would come in three waves. The first wave was well-armed and they struck 29 points on the border. They neutralized observation towers using drones and use motorbikes to penetrate into Israel, They crossed a billion-dollar fence that was supposed to stop them.  

The Golani soldiers witnessed the rocket fire that awakened the border at 6:30. The battalions were dispersed. One unit, for instance, had to hold an area behind which were five kibbutzim, such as Kissufim, Ein HaShlosha, Magen, Nirim, and Nir Oz.

The soldiers had several tanks in each area along the border and they brought the tanks up to their berms to be able to confront attackers. The company commanders of the battalion summoned their fighters to try to control the damage. But there were black holes of information. Units were overrun, and areas such as Nir Oz lost touch with their commanders. The Gaza division camp at Reim was attacked. 

It took time for each sector commander to understand the extent of the attack. Israel has trained and prepared for infiltrations. However, the belief was that each infiltration point was the major point of contact, not that the enemy had hit 29 places at the same time.

Each unit, and many of the Kita Konenut or security volunteers of the local kibbutzim, fought lonely battles, unable to see the full extent of the battle. Where the IDF and local forces were successful, they beat back the attack and the terrorists did not penetrate communities. However, at places like Beeri, the terrorists were able to pour in.  

Commanders and members of the unit who were on leave came back to their units. It took several hours to organize a real defense at the border. And they had just begun to contain and destroy the enemy. It would take another fifty hours of tough battles.

The enemy would be reduced from 29 points of infiltration to nine places and then zero. The air force had difficulty carrying out strikes because the terrorists were mixed in with civilians, in communities and other areas. There were also Israeli forces in many places. This chaos nullified Israel’s technological advantages. The terrorists also had a large supply of weapons, such as RPGs and also kornet anti-tank missiles.

The terrorists also penetrated beyond the first line of contact into a second line of border communities. This presented an added difficulty. Terrorists were confronted by police in places like Sderot, Ofakim, and also at the Nova festival. 54 police were killed in the fighting.

After an hour or so many of Israel’s elite units responded. This included the Lotar counter-terror unit, which went into Sderot and other areas, as well as Shayetet 13, Shaldag, Seyeret Matkal, Duvdevan, Yasam police units, and other units of paratroops and commandos.  

The terrorists had trained for this. They not only had maps of the communities they were attacking, but they also brought trucks and vehicles with weapons, gear, and other capabilities. In Beeri, we saw one terrorist pick-up truck with a “technical” machine gun setup on the back. The gun has been removed. The terrorists even removed spare tires in order to light them on fire to burn buildings in the communities.

The goal of the terrorists in several places was to seize buildings take hostages and entrench themselves. Others took hostages back to Gaza, others massacred people. It took time to kill the terrorists in Beeri. Now numerous buildings have been destroyed, partially burned, and ripped apart, like a tornado had come through here and left a path of destruction. But this was not a natural disaster, this was a human-caused disaster.  

Israel believes this will be a long war. Many questions remain about the response at the border. The battalions that were stationed here paid a heavy price and had many heroes who stood against the enemy. However, they needed more support and lessons must be learned about this response.

Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D., is the author of “Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future.” He has more than 15 years of experience covering conflict and security issues in the Middle East, as a correspondent and analystand is an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). 


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