5 Israeli soldiers killed in friendly fire incident in Gaza, adding to toll of accidental deaths

By Philissa Cramer

Soldiers killed in northern Gaza on May 15, 2024. Top row, left to right: Sgt. Ilan Cohen, Sgt. Daniel Chemu, Staff Sgt. Betzalel David Shashuah; bottom row, left to right: Staff Sgt. Gilad Arye Boim, Cpt. Roy Beit Yaakov. (Israel Defense Forces)

(JTA) — Five Israeli paratroopers were killed and seven were wounded in a northern Gaza city on Wednesday after another Israeli unit shelled the building where they were gathered, mistaking them for enemy fighters.

The incident is especially notable both because it occurred in an area thought to be captured from Hamas months ago, and because the deaths add to the number of Israeli troops killed by friendly fire. According to a Haaretz investigation published earlier this month, roughly 10% of the 278 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza have died after being hit by their own army.

Another roughly 10% have died after accidents and equipment malfunctions. It is unclear how the friendly-fire rate in Gaza compares to past conflicts, both involving Israel and around the world. But a landmark 1995 study of U.S. war deaths over time put the average friendly-fire rate at 15%. Haaretz reported that commanders wrote about their concerns regarding mistakenly targeting fellow Israelis in incident reports that the newspaper obtained.

The casualties also occurred as the defense establishment in Israel has grown more openly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership over the war in Gaza. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant demanded in a televised speech on Wednesday that Netanyahu devise a plan for Gaza’s postwar governance because he said the absence of a plan would lead either to Israeli military rule in the territory or to Hamas maintaining control.

“As long as Hamas maintains civil rule in the Gaza Strip, it is likely to rehabilitate its strength, and the IDF will have to return to fight in places it has already fought, so we need to destroy Hamas’ ability to rule,” Gallant said. “The key to that is military action and the creation of an alternative ruling authority.”

Gallant added that “indecision” would lead to “the erosion of military achievements, reduce pressure on Hamas and undermine chances to reacxh an outline to free the hostages” held by Hamas.

While people close to Netanyahu have presented plans for a “day after” in Gaza, Netanyahu has not elaborated on what a post-Hamas reality might look like in the territory. In a video posted to social media on Wednesday, Netanyahu doubled down on his opposition to the Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, running Gaza. He said Israel’s focus should remain on defeating Hamas.

The soldiers killed and wounded on Wednesday were all from a unit for haredi Orthodox soldiers. Their deaths come as a bill meant to increase haredi enlistment is drawing opposition from haredi political parties and dividing lawmakers in Israel’s parliament, in addition to splitting Israel’s three-person war cabinet: This week, Netanyahu endorsed a 2022 plan from former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, but Gantz rejected that idea, saying the plan was no longer relevant given the war against Hamas.

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