Gaza War Casts Light on IDF’s Secretive Maglan Special Forces Unit
Trained to fight deep behind enemy lines, the Israeli army’s Maglan (“Ibis”) special forces unit recently offered a dramatic, painful, close-up glimpse of their missions during the 50-day-long Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
A video profile on the unit aired by Israel’s Channel 2 in August opens with IDF engineers blowing up part of a tunnel near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. The tunnel’s entrance was within a building that had housed a UNRWA clinic that Hamas terrorists had rigged with 80 kilograms of explosives.
On July 30, 1st.-Sgt. Matan Gottlieb, 21, from Rishon LeZion, 1st.-Sgt. Omar Chai, 21, from Savion, and 1st.-Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv, were killed and 15 soldiers were wounded, when the booby-trapped facility blew up.
There’s a saying: “the sand remembers.” But the Maglan unit’s fighters, and their unit commander, Lt.-Col. Yuval, will also remember that day.
“The image that remains is the memory of the bravery of three warriors we left behind in Gaza, the heroism of the wounded, who continued to fight despite their wounds, and the heroism of those who stormed the collapsing structure – while under fire,” he said.
“They evacuated their buddies, and still were able to charge forward. This is the finest hour of the valiant warriors,” Yuval said.
Maglan has existed since 1986, but was only publicized in 2006. Unlike many other special forces units, the army offers no information on its missions or activities. It was rumored to have gone “SCUD-busting” in the first Gulf War in 1991, according to sparse information out on the web.
On the wall of the small dining room at the base of the elite unit hangs a red sign with the unit’s mascot – a winged Ibis – and the slogan “the war is tomorrow.”
The sign has been hanging there for years, as a reminder that they must always be ready to be called up on a mission.
In Protective Edge, “I decided that every soldier would enter Gaza,” a senior officer told Channel 2.
“That’s what it’s all about, that’s the point, that’s what was expected of us, I think,” he said.
The entire unit readied itself in the staging area outside Gaza before the ground forces entered into battle. At first, Maglan troops were dispersed among the other divisions.
One of the units that entered Gaza first was named for its leading officer Efron. Troops in this veteran unit were within two months of their release from military service.
“How well do you know each other after three years?” Channel 2 asked the soldiers.
“We know each other so well, we can identify each other by looking at the back with the webbing, according to their pace, at 10-15 meters in the dark,” one said.
But they were not yet at war together.
“You go in, and, all of a sudden it’s all real. Explosions to your right, your left,” one soldier described his first taste of battle.
“It’s all gunfire and smoke, and scenes you don’t see every day,” another commented dryly.
“I remember running, coming across a live grenade, and hurling it into a building – boom!” a third recalled. “That’s a sound I only know from maneuvers…”
Maglan units operated in Gaza in several areas. From house-to-house fighting, to remotely firing missiles.
“The task is to find the shafts,” the fighters explained of their role in uncovering terror tunnels – 32 of them, so far – dug from beneath Gaza into Israel, and coming up under kindergartens, kibbutz dining rooms and fields.
Hamas claims that there are many more, still hidden beneath Gaza’s sands.
“You get intelligence on locations of the shafts and follow them down. There’s concern that they are booby-trapped, and so your eyes are constantly focused on the search for the trigger cable inside the house and you look for the charger… we do everything to avoid triggering it; it’s usually successful,” one soldier said.
Scouring each house, they came across many weapons, bombs and ammo prepared by Hamas terrorists.
Fighters who were there said that “every time we encountered members of terrorist organizations, they fled” from (battle).