Sayeret Matkal’s failed attempt to rescue Nachshon Wachsman

Eric Sof

Sayeret Tzanhanim members

Sayeret Matkal carried out the infamous rescue attempt of Nachshon Wachsman. The operation started as an incident in which Palestinian Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman from the Bnai Atarot junction in central Israel and held him hostage for 6 days.

The incident ended in a failed Israeli rescue attempt, during which his captors killed Wachsman while dozen Israeli commandos were wounded. Three of his captors and an Israeli officer were also killed.

IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman was kidnapped by Hamas in October 1994
IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman was kidnapped by Hamas in October 1994 (Photo: XY)


At home on leave, Wachsman was instructed by the military to attend a one-day training course in northern Israel. He left Saturday night after Shabbat, telling his parents he would return Sunday night, October 9, 1994. He was last seen by a friend who reported that, after completing the training, Wachsman had been dropped off at the Bnai Atarot junction, a highly-populated area in central Israel, where he could either catch a bus or hitchhike, a common practice of Israeli soldiers, to Jerusalem.

Israeli intelligence learned that Wachsman entered a car in which there were Hamas militants wearing kippot, who had a Tanakh and siddur on the dashboard, and Chassidic music playing. Mohammed Deif stated that he was the commander of the operation to abduct Wachsman.

Video message

On October 11, 1994, a videotape was broadcast showing Wachsman, with his hands and feet bound, before a keffiyeh-covered militant displaying Nachshon Wachsman’s identity card. After the militant recited the hostage’s home address and identity number, Wachsman spoke, with the armed militant behind him, saying:

“The group from Hamas kidnapped me. They are demanding the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and another 200 from Israeli prison. If their demands are not met, they will execute me on Friday at 8 P.M.”

Nachshon’s parents appealed to world leaders, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton, and Muslim religious leaders.

Nachshon Wachsman appeared in a ransom video message sent to the Israeli authorities by his captors
Nachshon Wachsman appeared in a ransom video message sent to the Israeli authorities by his captors (Photo: Still image)

On October 14, 1994, with 24 hours until the ultimatum, prayer vigils were held in many places. Over 100,000 people representing all religious, political, and social segments of the Israeli population gathered at the Western Wall. Responding to a request by Esther Wachsman, Nachshon’s mother, many women lit an extra Sabbath candle for her son.

Rescue attempt

In the meantime, the Israeli military had captured Jihad Yarmur, the car driver who had picked up Nachshon Wachsman. Interrogating Yarmur, they learned that Wachsman was being held in the village of Bir Nabala, a location under Israeli control located only ten minutes away from Wachsman’s home in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Prime Minister Rabin authorized a military rescue attempt.

sayeret matkal patch logo insignia
Sayeret Matkal insignia (Photo: XY)

On Friday, October 14, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat announced they had won the Nobel Peace Prize. When Peres was asked his opinion on the “peace” that he had achieved in Oslo in light of Hamas’ impending deadline, he responded that the peace process involves “calculated risks.”

Sayeret Matkal

At 20:00 that night, at the hour of the ultimatum, elite IDF commandos from the Sayeret Matkal special operations forces unit carried out an operation to free Wachsman. It was thought that Wachsman was being held behind an iron door, but in fact, it was a solid steel door, and the first explosion only dented the iron door. The commandos immediately lost the element of surprise, giving Wachsman’s captors inside time to shoot him dead and position themselves for the impending firefight.

A second explosive charge was prepared, and the door was finally blasted open after more than a minute. After a heavy exchange of fire with shooters waiting on the stairwell, the commandos reached a second iron door and had to wait another four minutes for the charges to be set. During this time, the commandos shouted to the gunmen inside to surrender, while the gunmen replied that Wachsman was already dead and that they preferred to die.

Sayeret Matkal: A Israel's Equivalent to the Delta Force
Sayeret Matkal: A Israel’s Equivalent to the Delta Force (Photo: IDF)

After the team broke through the door, another exchange of fire took place before the room was secured. Three gunmen were killed and two taken prisoner, while the leader of the commando team, Captain Nir Poraz, was killed, and nine commandos were wounded.  Nachshon Wachsman was found dead in the room. His body was slumped in a chair, wearing a kaffiyeh and civilian clothes. He had been shot in the throat and chest at close range. The Wachsman family was informed of his death personally by General Yoram Yair.

The Nachshon Wachsman family was informed of his death personally by General Yoram Yair.

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