European Marksmen-for-Hire in Gaza
The pair talked as they walked, indicating sandbanks until they reached a point 500 meters from his perch atop an IDF position. They then turned back and disappeared behind Palestinian houses.
M. decided this break in Palestinian routine was worth reporting to his superior officer, which he did and put the incident out of his mind.
Around 90 minutes later, he stood up to move to another part of the roof. His right shoulder had been visible over the parapet no more than three or four seconds when he was knocked over by a gunshot before he had time to fire. Another soldier on the roof shot back at once, but the sniper was gone.
In the hospital, M was shown the bullet extracted from his shoulder. It came from an M16 automatic rifle and had been fired from a distance of 500 meters, exactly the point where the pair had turned back from the sandbank opposite M.’s rooftop sights. His comrade told him he had caught a glimpse of the shooter he missed and was sure he was European. “A sniper fast enough to lock onto my shoulder, shoot and disappear – all in the space of a three or four seconds must be a top-line professional marksman,” said M.
His account has been repeated by members of other units serving in the Rafah and Khan Younes sectors of the southern Gaza Strip. They swear they have come across snipers they are sure are not Palestinian but foreigners from northern parts of the world.
debkafile‘s military sources report that in 2003, the IDF confirmed four instances of “foreign” snipers operating in Palestinian ranks. By September, 5 incidents had been registered this year. In one, an Israel soldier died of a direct shot to the head; four were injured in Operation Rainbow in Rafah earlier this year and two more recently. Soldiers serving in the southern sector claim the number of casualties from European snipers is much higher and are asking questions. Their officers reply that the matter is extremely sensitive but urge them to take precautions on the assumption that professional marksmen are in the vicinity.
Some troops say they have heard the special bang peculiar to the Russian-made SVD sharpshooter’s rifle, of the type captured aboard the Karin-A Palestinian smugglers’ ship and found during Operation Rainbow. The troops who have come up against these foreigners note their exceptional speed. They fire a single round and duck out of sight, leaving a Palestinian to take over their firing position.
This description, according to debkafile‘s military sources, fits mercenary marksmen. By firing once and moving out, they save themselves from Israeli sniper reprisals. As one Israeli officer put it, “After all they’re in it for the money, not to get killed.” For that reason too, they never stay long in the Gaza Strip – a couple of days and they are gone back across the border into Egypt. Some are thought to enter through the Palestinian gunrunning tunnels from Sinai to Rafah and leave by the same route. Others may be smuggled in from Sinai to southern Israel in groups of illegal workers and prostitutes. The smugglers are said to receive extra-high pay, as much as $1,000, for bringing a foreign marksman in and out of the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian terrorist chiefs have been importing marksmen for hire to hit Israeli troops for two or more years. In March 2002, the London Daily Telegraph, known for its good British MoD and intelligence sources, reported a request from the Israeli Mossad to the British MI6 to find out if an IRA sharpshooter had not been responsible for the 7 Israeli troop deaths at the Wadi Harmiya checkpoint. Israeli tests had shown that the planning of the ambush, the type of weapons used, the way the firefight was managed and, even more tellingly, the fact that the weapons left behind were not the ones used, were typical of an assailant thoroughly conversant with IRA tactics.
One month later, when the Moshav Adura was stormed by Palestinian gunmen, Israeli civilians who had seen the terrorists at close quarters reported that among the Palestinians was a European.