Israel rescues two hostages in Gaza raid

Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting the National Counter-terrorism Unit (Yamam) of the Israel Police on February 12 after the hostage rescue. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Israel Ministry of Defense)

The Israel Defense Forces rescued two hostages in a raid into the southern Gaza city of Rafah on February 12. “This was a complex rescue operation under fire in the heart of Rafah, based on highly sensitive and valuable intelligence from the Intelligence Directorate and the Israel Security Agency,” said IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. The operation took place in Rafah, which has become a focal point for Israel’s next stage of fighting in Gaza.

The operation to free the hostages is one of several attempts made by Israel to rescue hostages in Gaza. One hostage in late October, an IDF observer named Ori Megidish who had been kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, was also rescued. In December, one hostage was killed in a rescue attempt and three others were mistakenly killed by Israeli fire after after escaping captivity. 134 hostages remain held by Hamas in Gaza. The IDF believes 29 of these hostages are deceased, either killed as a result of the Hamas attack on October 7 or killed inside Gaza while they were being held hostage. Most of the hostages are held by Hamas, with some being held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

As Hamas has lost ground in Gaza over four months of fighting, increasing evidence of the presence of hostages in various locations has come to light. For example, hostages were taken to the Shifa and Indonesian hospitals in northern Gaza, according to reports in November and December. Several tunnels uncovered in Khan Younis included evidence that hostages were held there, including a holding cell.

The raid in Rafah comes after several days of pressure on Israel to not operate in the southern Gaza city near the Egyptian border. Rafah has been swelled with displaced Gazans who fled fighting in other areas of Gaza. Some estimates say the city that once had several hundred thousand residents in its environs now has 1.7 million. It is also on the Egyptian border, which has raised concern from Egypt and its allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In a rare announcement about the tactics of the Gaza operation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on February 9 for a plan to defeat Hamas battalions in Rafah. Around 75% of Hamas’ 24 battalions have been destroyed or defeated in Gaza, leaving only a handful remaining that consist of thousands of fighters.

It was into this complex battlespace that IDF special forces, the Israel Security Agency and members of the special police unit Yaman operated in the first hours of February 12. Two hostages, Louis Har and Fernando Marman, were being held in a civilian building. They had been kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 from the Israeli community of Nir Yitzhak. Israel’s plan to rescue them had been in the works for “some time,” the IDF said, and the special forces were waiting for the right conditions to allow it to proceed. The hostages were found on the second floor of a building and then, after a firefight, evacuated. The IDF also carried out airstrikes on Hamas’ Shabura battalion, and Hamas claimed there were numerous civilian casualties in Gaza as a result of the raid.

Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant visited the Yaman unit after the successful operation. “The result of the operation is very impressive, reflecting the capabilities of this unit and your ability to cooperate with the ISA and the IDF. I saw your cooperation with the Navy Seals (Shayetet 13) and the Air Force,” he said. “Hamas is vulnerable – we are capable of going everywhere and achieving our missions. The public knows that they have someone to trust.” Netanyahu also met with members of the unit that carried out the mission and said “I would like to tell you that the freeing of Louis and Fernando was one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the State of Israel.”

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 


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