Sayeret Matkal commander steps down after Gaza raid

The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group on Wednesday boasted that it had caused the commander of the Israeli military’s elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit to step down from his position, following a raid by special forces that went awry last year and resulted in the death of a senior officer.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the head of the elite unit — who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew letter of his name, Col. “Het” — was stepping down, making him the first Sayeret Matkal commander in 23 years to leave the military immediately after serving in the position. In general, the post is a steppingstone to more senior ranks in the Israel Defense Forces.

A spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, Abu Obeida, said the group saw Het’s early retirement as a “direct result” of its foiling of an Israeli military operation last year — a counter-operation he called “Operation Spearhead.”

The terror group made a similar boast after then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman announced in November that he was stepping down in light of the government’s policies toward Hamas and the Strip, calling his resignation a “political victory for Gaza.”

“The resistance and steadfastness of members of our nation have led to the overthrow of Liberman from his position as defense minister. Today, the commander of Sayeret Matkal is also retiring as a direct result of Operation ‘Spearhead,’” Abu Obeida said in a statement on Wednesday.

On the night of November 11, Israeli special forces soldiers were in the Gaza Strip on an intelligence-gathering raid, the details of which remain under a strict gag order by the military censor.

According to Hamas officials, the soldiers were from Sayeret Matkal and had been conducting a complex operation to bug the terror group’s communications equipment in Gaza. They were said to have been driving through Gaza in civilian vans, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the border.

Israel has not confirmed any of these claims.

During the operation, their van was stopped at a Hamas checkpoint and a firefight broke out. An Israeli officer — a lieutenant colonel who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name, “Mem” — was killed in the clash and a second, who went back to recover Mem’s body, was wounded. According to the Israeli military, dozens of Hamas fighters were killed in the initial gun battle and the subsequent airstrikes that were carried out to assist the remaining special forces in making their escape from the Strip.

A day after the raid, Hamas, the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip launched over 500 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel, killing one person and injuring dozens more, some seriously. It was the largest ever a number of projectiles fired from Gaza in a 24-hour period and the most significant battle in the Strip since the 2014 war.