The Myth of the Lone Sniper
The lone Palestinian sniper who, with 25 bullets from his old-fashioned carbine rifle, was able to kill 7 well-armed Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians – and wound another 4 – is the stuff of legend. Sprung on Israel national radio by its military correspondent, Carmela Menashe, on Sunday, March 3, the story has circulated over local and international media as a statement of fact. Circumstantial details piled drama onto the bloodbath perpetrated early Sunday at the Ofra roadblock. An unnamed soldier accused his superior officers of abandoning the roadblock unit to its fate; another said they had been sitting ducks.
In any case, the roadblock system, set up to impede the passage of terrorists from Palestinian-ruled areas to Israeli territory, is under urgent review. However, in the case of the Ofra roadblock, all the evidence gathered by debkafile‘s military sources refutes the tale put out by Israeli radio. Our military experts also challenge it as implausible.
Positioned between two hills near a disused British police post, north of Ramallah, the Ofra roadblock commands a key intersection on the Nablus-Jerusalem, Hebron-Jerusalem highways.
Our investigations show that before light Sunday morning, March 3, not one but three Palestinian gunmen took up positions on the hills enclosing the roadblock on both sides .
One, armed with an M-14 carbine, was positioned on the southeastern hill. This rifle may be dated, but many an expert marksman praises its precision and stability. The other two Palestinian gunmen stood on the opposite northwestern hill, armed with an M-16 assault rifle and a PK 500 General Purpose Machine Gun (comparable to a 7.62mm FN MAG).
The panel of inquiry will not doubt ask why no roadblock sentries were placed on the hilltops. That does not alter the sequence of events, as we have reconstructed them.
The first shots against the roadblock were fired by the marksman armed with the M-14 before 0700 IT Sunday morning. He hit three Israeli soldiers. The two Palestinians on the opposite hill then opened heavy assault and machine gun fire on the falling men to make sure none survived. The rest of the unit, woken up in its temporary quarters by the gunfire, ran out half-dressed and shooting. As they approached the roadblock, four were caught in the crossfire from the two hills.
Reports that the roadblock unit was confused by echoes of gunshots coming from different directs were drummed up to substantiate the sniper tale. There were no echoes. The sounds of gunfire coming from different directions were real.
debkafile built up this picture with the help of witnesses on the spot. At that hour of the morning, at least three cars were lined up at the roadblock waiting to go through and there were plenty of travelers on foot. Furthermore, identifiable cartridges from the different weapons used were collected from three different firing positions on the high ground surrounding the roadblock. Finally, experienced paramedics on the scene identified diverse entry and exit wounds, likewise attesting to bullets from a variety of weapons.
Finally, Palestinian spokesmen confirmed that three gunmen had ambushed the roadblock.
The military experts debkafile consultedstrongly doubt any sniper’s ability to achieve 14 direct hits with 25 M-14 bullets, however proficient. In any case, only Batman or Steve Austin could have flown overhead between two hills.
That said, why is the Israeli media so intent on the lone sniper theory?
The answer to this has more to do with Israel’s endemic political infighting than the facts of the case.
The rationale behind the tale “leaked” to the radio correspondent appears to be that if a single sniper with an outdated carbine can effect a massacre at a well-armed roadblock, there is something badly amiss with the way the chief of staff, lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, and the general tipped to succeed him, deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon, are running war operations. It also shows up the Sharon government’s strategic thinking in a poor light. In the immediate term, the source of the leak may also have hoped to influence the government in its final choice of the next chief of staff, whose announcement is due in less than a week.