Israel military going public on Oct. 7 tank battle at local resident’s home

By David Brummer

An Army M1A2 Abrams tank assigned to the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, fires during gunnery table V night iterations in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, Jun. 6, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Tobias Cukale)

JERUSALEM – The Israel Defense Forces announced results of a military probe into the defense of Kibbutz Be’eri following the initial Hamas onslaught on Oct. 7 were presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Details of the review – which Maj. Gen. Mickey Edelstein, a former commander of the Gaza Division carried out – include the recording of a highly contentious event, namely the incident where at least two IDF tank shells were fired at Pessi Cohen’s house.

An unknown number of terrorists had overrun the property, and it was assessed there were at least 14 hostages held there. The presentation to the chief of staff is reported to have lasted several hours as it was highly detailed.

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Many units were involved in the largely officially uncoordinated attempts to push back the marauding invaders. In the chaos, Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, the commander of the IDF’s 99th Division who had been tapped to be the next head of the Gaza Division, ordered a tank to fire on Cohen’s house.

Critics of both Hiram and the IDF have claimed this action was part of the controversial “Hannibal Directive,” also known as the “Hannibal Protocol or Procedure.” Broadly it states in a situation such as Oct. 7, it is better neither IDF soldiers nor civilians should be allowed to be taken alive into captivity into Gaza.

Officially, the IDF mothballed the directive in 2016, although some claim the exigencies of the Hamas onslaught against Israel meant in extremis it was reanimated, including the incident of Brig. Gen. Hiram’s decision to fire on a residential home.

It is still not known exactly how many hostages died because of the tank fire – there was at least one fatality caused by shrapnel from a tank shell – but the whole area was subject to a fierce and prolonged gun battle involving Hamas terrorists and IDF troops.

The probe is expected to provide a large number of details of the incident at Pessi Cohen’s house.

For now, Hiram’s promotion as commander of the Gaza Division has been frozen. And even this move is seen as somewhat contentious. He is alleged to have given orders which required those under his command to make the very difficult decision to fire on a house that contained their countrymen – and whose condition could not have been known.

He is also credited with helping to take control of an entirely chaotic scene in southern Israel in the first hours and days of Hamas’ massacre – when other commanders had either already fallen in battle or had fled. It is unclear what his future will be, for sure nothing will be decided until at least the findings of the probe have been presented to the surviving members of the southern kibbutzim and families of the slain at a special presentation at a Dead Sea hotel on Thursday.

The Be’eri probe is far from the only one; there are some 40 others in the pipeline, which are investigating the actions in the south, and which will be published on a rolling basis throughout July and August. A separate investigation into Oct. 6, which will include specific warnings about the likelihood of a Hamas attack, and the action or inaction that followed – and why – will be released in August.

Will there be a state inquiry?

In spite of the dozens of up-and-running military probes which are due to be published over the coming weeks, there is still no word on whether there will be an official state inquiry into the events of Oct 7. It seems extraordinary, but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the establishment of such an inquiry – presumably fearful of what the results would mean for his political survival.

Israel’s record on state inquiries might be imperfect – one thinks specifically of the Agranat Commission – which convened in November 1973 and delivered its findings in April 1974 – in the wake of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. It largely fudged the issue – particularly with regard to then-premier Golda Meir’s culpability – although it did effectively mark the end of her political career. Netanyahu is clearly petrified another wide-ranging inquiry will find his leadership similarly lacking and bring down the curtain on his 30-or-so-years in the political spotlight.

In contrast to Netanyahu, former prime minister Benny Gantz, who recently left Israel’s war cabinet, called for a state commission into the intelligence and army failures of Oct. 7, back in May. Another senior defense establishment figure Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Ronen Bar said in 2023, “despite a series of actions we carried out, unfortunately, we were unable to generate a sufficient warning that would allow the attack to be thwarted. As the one who heads the organization,” Bar said, “the responsibility for this is mine. There will be time for investigations. Now we are fighting.”

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