An undercover Israeli team that clashed with Hamas in Gaza on November 11 —an incident that brought the region to the brink of war— was installing an advanced surveillance system, according to Palestinian sources. Local media reports said that the Israeli undercover team —believed to be members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)— killed seven members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas’ armed wing. The IDF troops eventually escaped into Israel with the help of air support, having lost one team member. The incident was followed by a barrage of nearly 500 rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The Israelis responded by firing more than 160 missiles that fell throughout the Palestinian enclave. Hostilities were halted on November 13, when Hamas declared a unilateral ceasefire brokered by Egypt. The incident prompted the resignation of Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, and may bring about early parliamentary elections in the Jewish state.
In the ensuing political crisis, little has been said about the reason for the Israeli undercover incursion into Gaza. The IDF has refused to comment on the team’s mission, admitting only that its troops “operated […] in the Gaza Strip”. It is believed that the members of the undercover team were dressed in civilian clothes and that at least two of them were disguised as women. After entering Gaza in a civilian Volkswagen vehicle, they drove to Khan Yunis, a city in the south of the Strip, near the Egyptian border. It was there that they were discovered by the al-Qassam Brigades, who stopped them at a checkpoint, asking for identification. The Israeli team killed at least one Palestinian at the checkpoint by shooting him with a silenced gun. Following a high-speed car chase, they left via helicopter after their pursuers were killed by Israeli tank and aircraft fire. Their abandoned Volkswagen car was then blown up by an Israeli fighter jet.
Speaking on Saturday at a media conference held in Gaza City, and aired live on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas’ Gaza City Deputy Chief Khalil al-Hayya claimed that the Israeli undercover incursion was significant. Had it been successful, said al-Hayya, the IDF would have “achieved a major security breakthrough” by installing a new, state-of-the-art surveillance system. Had it been able to “install the surveillance equipment”, the undercover team would have given Israel the ability “to kill, hack and abduct”, and it would have “possibly made it easy for [Israel] to discover tunnels and other” activities pursued by Hamas, according to the Palestinian side. Video footage aired by Al-Aqsa TV on Sunday showed what the television station said was remnants of “surveillance devices” left behind by the IDF undercover team. Al-Hayya finished his statement on Saturday with a warning, saying that “penetrating the security of the Gaza Strip will not be an easy task”.