On Oct. 9, 1994, an Israeli soldier named Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by four Hamas terrorists disguised as religious Jews. Unless Israel released hundreds of Palestinian terrorists, the kidnappers announced in a videotape, Waxman will be executed within the week. IDF intelligence tracked the kidnappers to a house in the Palestinian town of Bir Nabala, and on Friday, Oct. 14, a team of commandos was dispatched to rescue Waxman. They arrived at dusk, taking advantage of the element of surprise. Their plan was to blow up the front door using a small but potent explosive device. Tragically, it failed: The charge wasn’t strong enough to take down the door, and the terrorists on the second floor, hearing the commotion downstairs, shot Waxman six times in the chest and once in the head. Another IDF officer, Captain Nir Poraz, was also killed in the firefight that ensued.
It was one of the darkest moments in the past two decades of IDF history, but it didn’t go unheeded. Immediately following the failed rescue attempt, the army’s engineer corps began experimenting with making smaller, more potent devices that would enable soldiers to break down doors or windows without attracting too much attention and without hurting any civilians who may also be inside.
In recent months, a special IDF squad, code-named Snowy Slope, completed a successful experiment with a new batch of microdevices, each containing only a few grams of explosives but powerful enough to take down metal bars, a door, or even a wall without causing collateral damage. This, IDF officials told the Israeli press, was particularly important for any possible upcoming ground operation against Hamas in Gaza: Because the terrorist group frequently operates from residential homes, schools, hospitals, and other civilian structures, using women and children as human shields, the IDF now possesses the capacity to enter these structures and surgically target the terrorists alone.
“It’s a great challenge to fight in a place like that, which such a high-density civilian population,” a Snowy Slope officer told the Israeli press. “Our warriors are trained to assess whether the building is booby-trapped, and choose the right means of breaking in accordingly. These new devices reduce the explosives to the absolute necessary minimum. We’ve had several instances in Operation Protective Edge when our warriors were hurt by booby-trapped buildings, which is why we are now trained to make the right call quickly and accurately. Gaza has massive walls side-by-side with sporadically built structures that don’t follow any recognized building code, which makes our mission all the more challenging. We don’t want one of our warriors hurt by shrapnel, nor would we like for a Palestinian family in the house to get needlessly hurt.”
Established directly after Waxman’s failed rescue, Snowy Slope is also trained to rescue hostages, as well as to handle any potential chemical weapons that may find their way to Hezbollah or Hamas from Syria.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.