Under condition of anonymity, this member of the special forces recounts his 40 days spent in the Palestinian enclave, between bombings, street fighting and mass exodus.
Before his eyes, fatigue is clearly visible. Eliott*, not yet thirty years old, confides that he still has trouble sleeping. “I have no more patience, nothing annoys me”whispers this Franco-Israeli, freshly returned from a mission in Gaza. “With my team, we have just had several days of workshops psychologisthe says, sitting at a café in Tel Aviv. It’s useful for going back down, because we’re in the middle of a gap.”
If Eliott talks about coming back down, it’s because he has just spent more than a month perched on various buildings, as a sniper for an Israeli special forces commando. An army reservist, he is not allowed to talk about his operations. But he says he feels the need to tell his role in “the gear” of the war launched against Hamas.
After completing his schooling in France, Eliott emigrated alone to Israel around the age of 18. “I don’t have the classic profile, my family is secular and not the most Zionist”explains the one who says “always feel a deep attachment to French values” but remains marked by the attacks of Mohamed Merah. Selected through intense tests, he ended up joining a prestigious section of the army, where he met a number of “his guys”. On October 7, while Israel was still stunned by the coordinated terrorist attacks on its soil, it was them that he joined in fourth gear.
“What strikes me is the scale of the destruction”
“We introduced ourselves to the base”, says the young reservist. After long days of waiting, he was sent to the north of the country, hit almost daily by rockets fired from neighboring Lebanon. At the end of November, almost two months after the Hamas attacks, the Israeli army launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. His mobilization order arrives immediately. “I had a few days to train like crazy”he emphasizes.
Eliott has an indelible memory of his entry into the Gaza Strip. “As usual, it’s done at night.”explains the one who carried out targeted operations in the enclave between 2015 and 2019. “We drive at full speed in armored vehicles, with all lights off, to be as undetectable as possiblehe says. And here, what strikes me is the scale of the destruction: few buildings were not hit in one way or another by the air force, artillery or tanks. .”
In central Gaza, in early December, he came across “the remains of a terrorist in combat gear, being eaten by dogs”all in the middle of the street. “They are our enemies, but we are still talking about human bodies”, he is still surprised. The first days, he also notices a very large number of “tunnel exits”, presumably used by Hamas. “It’s a city under the city, he describes, an underground fortress.”
With his team of around fifteen people, Eliott is responsible for leading “complete field analyses”which are then transmitted to the general staff. “When we settle somewhere, we sterilize the entire neighborhood”, he explains. Which means “Blow up the surrounding buildings, or at least destroy all the stairs to prevent us from being shot at from a high point”.
“One of our fears is receiving a strike from our side by mistake.”Eliott, Israeli army sniper
Despite these precautions, the nights are short and choppy. The buzz of the “Zik”, this Israeli army drone, is omnipresent. Explosions and bombings sometimes occur very close to its base camp. “It’s difficult to go back to sleep after waking up suddenly, we’re completely disoriented”, he confides. Without a phone, “too dangerous on the ground”Eliott reads or listens to music “on an antique MP3 player” given by his brother, to pass the time.
“Anyone who approaches is considered suspicious”
In the south of Gaza City, stress and suspicion are part of the sniper’s daily life. While his team is tasked with opening a second humanitarian corridor to allow residents to flee even further south, Israeli soldiers fear that Hamas fighters are hidden in the crowds.
“In my viewfinder, I have thousands of civilians marchinghe remembers. Some have nothing left, they are on carts with their whole family.” Facial recognition systems are used to flush out possible terrorists known to Israeli intelligence. Sometimes, the soldiers shout messages in Hebrew through the crowd, in case hostages captured on October 7 were among those displaced by war.
When Eliott and his unit come across, in the middle of a reconnaissance operation, the identity card and clothes of an Israeli hostage, their hearts race. But the captive has already been moved for a while. “A little too obvious clues also pointed towards a house, he adds. But we chose not to go in.” The building, totally trapped, will explode “like a huge fireworks display” after Israeli fire.
“It’s guerrilla warfare in the strict sense of the term. Hamas fighters often come out in sock shoes, fire rocket launchers before turning back to hide.”Eliott, Israeli army sniper
During another operation, the sniper narrowly escaped death. Targeted by an RPG [un lance-roquette antichar]he owes his salvation only to a pile of damp sand, in which the projectile lands 4 meters from him. “This is a particularly vicious warhe comments. Anyone who approaches us is considered suspicious, the enemies are hiding…”
“It’s like fighting against a shadow.”Eliott, Israeli army sniper
In total, the young sniper used his M24 rifle eleven times. “Seven shots were verified, he specifies. They were visibly armed Hamas fighters.” For the others, the army was unable to send a soldier or a drone to confirm the suspicions. Eliott also remembers three men, in their thirties, spotted with binoculars near the soldiers. All were neutralized. “When we searched the building where they were coming out, we found a rocket launcher. I was relieved”he admits.
“Impossible to wage a clean war”
When we talk about the heavy human toll of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, estimated at nearly 28,000 dead by the Hamas Ministry of Health, Eliott has his arguments lined up in battle order. “Not all civilians are terroristshe admits, but it is a population which has chosen terrorism.” He insists on military intelligence which is the prerequisite, according to the rules, for any bombing of civilian buildings. For him, if there is indeed “a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, “It should be blamed on Hamas”.
“When I see the scale of the response [aux attaques du 7 octobre], I wonder what they believed? Hamas knew very well that we would launch an operation of this caliber.”Eliott, Israeli army sniper
The massive presence of civilians among the dead in Gaza represents in his eyes “collateral damage”, impossible to avoid. “It’s unfortunate, but we can’t do otherwise”he believes. “On the scale of Israel, October 7 represents more than ten times the attack on the World Trade Centerargues Eliott. The attackers targeted Jews. For me, it’s a war of survival.”
According to the young sniper, “impossible to wage a clean war”. The images of men stripped and tied up by the Israelis in Gaza therefore do not shock him “no more than that”. “I see nothing that is contrary to the Geneva Conventions [qui régissent les crimes de guerre]this is the protocol when there is a terrorist risk”he reacts.
“What will we do next?”
In France, where this conflict is causing a lot of reaction, many left-wing elected officials denounce the bombings and the actions of the Israeli army. The rebellious MP Thomas Portes, for example, called for on “that persons of French nationality (including dual nationals) guilty of war crimes are brought before French justice”. “From a legal point of view, this is absurd”judges the Franco-Israeli reservist, who denounces “political maneuvers”. Does he fear that one day he will no longer be able to return to his country of origin without being worried? “If I am even stuck somewhere, I will never set foot there again”he decides.
Eliott does not see this war in which he is participating as a…