ZIKIM BASE, Israel-Gaza border: It was one of the deadliest clashes of Israel’s ground war in Gaza against Hamas. Nine soldiers killed, some top officers, along with several injured. It happened when Hamas terrorists ambushed troops Tuesday on a mission in the Shejaiya section of Gaza City. On the same day, another soldier was killed farther north.
Fox News spent time that day, just a few miles away, at the Zikim base on the northern Gaza border, a dusty place with sand dunes around and the Mediterranean Sea nearby.
We watched for several hours as troops steadily streamed toward and away from the battle. They rode in pumped-up, open-top Humvees that sometimes made them look more like extras in a ‘Mad Max’ movie.
The ones going in also rode side-by-side in troop carrier trucks. They seemed more tentative. The ones on the way out looked relieved that they were getting a break from some of the worst urban combat in decades. Some gave us the thumbs up. Many looked pretty young. Enlisted and reserve soldiers in the mix.
We asked Major ‘Isaac’ (the IDF asked that we use just his first name), a veteran on and off for much of the eight-week ground war, how the fight was.
‘I need to pick a word,’ he replied. And then said, ‘Tough.’ Responding further, ‘…yeh, definitely.’
Major ‘Isaac’ noted Hamas was ‘hiding… some of the time.’ And added about the heavily-armed terrorists, ‘They are prepared.’
He and other soldiers didn’t have to look far for reasons why they were in the fight.
Starting on Oct. 7, the Zikim base was attacked by dozens of Hamas fighters, arriving there by land and by sea. More veteran soldiers had to take over for the young recruits and fend them off. Bullet holes and rocket impacts could still be seen on the walls of the base’s shelters, the pavement and watch tower.
In the end, they won out, killing all 50 terrorists who targeted this prime location in wave after wave. But seven soldiers would be killed as well. These kinds of attacks were repeated at other bases, kibbutzes and towns. Which would lead to the massive Israeli air war, and now the ground action.
We asked Major ‘Isaac’ about the concerns regarding the huge destruction and loss of life for the residents of Gaza caused by Israel’s air and ground offensive. He noted tersely, ‘No one wants to hurt civilians.’
We also spoke with another soldier, Major ‘Omri.’ He seemed a bit more bullish about his side’s contact with the Hamas foe. ‘They’re tired,’ he told us. ‘We’ll shoot them,’ he added, ‘we’ll find them, even in the tunnels.’
Asked to sum up the future prospects for the IDF in this fight, he came back with a reply that sounded a bit ‘boilerplate,’ but still calmly confident:
‘The IDF is more than willing to continue to do whatever it takes to fulfill operational goals,’ he said.
One of the biggest takeaways from our couple-hour visit to Zikim: What a huge operation this war is, with so many moving parts. That base is just one of many entry points for thousands and thousands of soldiers pouring into the battle.
Also, the impression that this war is taking its toll on all involved. The death and destruction for the residents of Gaza caught in the crossfire. The hostages who remain stranded just a few miles from the base. As well as the strain from the combat in which these soldiers are participating. Still, their determination remains.
Fox News’s Emily Robertson contributed to this article.