Operation Rainbow (2004)

Operation Rainbow (2004)
Operation Rainbow
Part of the 2004 Israel–Gaza conflict
Date May 18–23, 2004
Location Gaza Strip
Result Israeli victory
 Israel (IDF) Flag of Hamas.svg Hamas
Islamic Jihad
Commanders and leaders
Brigadier General Shmuel Zakkai
Casualties and losses
None 41 fighters killed
12 civilians killed

Operation Rainbow (In Hebrew, Mivtza Keshet Be-Anan, מבצע קשת בענן) is a controversial military operation which began on May 18, 2004 and ended on May 23, 2004 in Rafah (רפיח), the Gaza Strip. Israel's aim was to clear terrorist infrastructure, to find smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt, and to kill militants after the deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers in guerrilla attacks. Israeli security sources said that operation was also aimed at preventing a shipment of Strela-2 (SA-7 Grail) shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missiles, and other long-range rockets which are stored on the Egyptian side of the border from being smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip.



On May 11 and May 12, two armoured personnel carriers of Givati's Dolev combat engineering battalion were destroyed by Palestinian militants. The two separate attacks, in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighbourhood and the Philadelphi Route near Rafah and the Egyptian border, claimed the lives of 11 soldiers.

In the Zeitoun incident, UNRWA ambulances were allegedly used by militants as transportation for themselves, and perhaps the bodily remains of Israeli soldiers dismembered in the explosion of armored personnel carriers carrying explosives to be used in destroying smuggling tunnels. A Reuters video shows armed militants boarding and being transported by a UNRWA ambulance. In his interview with Haaretz, Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also said that UNRWA's ambulances were used by Palestinian militants in order to smuggle some of the remains of IDF soldiers killed in Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza on May 11, 2004. UNRWA confirmed the incident and offered the explanation that the militants forced the driver to take them, but denied they carried body parts.

The IDF claims the aim of Operation Rainbow was to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Rafah, engage terrorists, destroy smuggling tunnels and stop illegal missile shipment.


On May 18, Israeli Defence Forces, mounted in IDF Achzarit heavy armoured personnel carriers and tanks and backed up by helicopter gunships entered Rafah from the north-eastern Tel-Sultan neighbourhood, after sealing off the entire area in order to prevent movement of miltants into and out of Rafah.

Israeli IDF Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers erected sand-barriers around Rafah to isolate it. Later, the D9s entered into the Rafah in order to detonate booby traps, open routes and demolish houses used by militants.

The IDF and the Israeli government have considered widening the Philadelphi Route (buffer zone), in order to allow the digging of a moat which would block the excavation of tunnels in the future. As this would require the destruction of even more houses in the area than were destroyed to create the current buffer, the plan was abandoned in order to find a more humanitarian solution for the residents of southern Rafah.

During the operation, IDF forces arrested several wanted people and exchanged fire with militants. Several bombs and anti-tank missiles were fired against the armored fighting vehicles but caused no damage.

It is claimed that when Palestinian men responded to IDF calls over loudspeakers to turn themselves in to the IDF authorities for questioning, members of Palestinian militant organizations opened fire on them and killed two Palestinian children. A senior officer in Gaza reported that the IDF have in their possession pictures of this incident. The army has not published the pictures.

Most of the operation was focused on Tel Es-Sultan. This came as a surprise to Palestinians, as this area is relatively far from the border with Egypt. According to Palestinian sources, soldiers entered the area shortly after midnight, taking up positions on the rooftops. Only after the 3rd day of action did IDF forces enter the "Brazil" section.

A zoo located in or adjacent to the "Brazil" section of the Rafah refugee camp was destroyed during the operation. [1] [2]

During the operation, the IDF claimed to have killed 41 militants and 12 civilians, but claimed that some of them may have been killed by Palestinian fire or explosive charges. Palestinians report 44 killed and 120 wounded, and offered testimony of the killing of many civilians [3].

On May 25, 2004, the IDF withdrew most of its forces out of Rafah and removed the blockade around it. However, there were still small IDF forces in Rafah, with the goal of pinpointing smuggling tunnels. On June 1 the operation officially ended.

Gaza District Coordinating Office Commander Yoav Mordechai was quoted Monday by Israel Radio as saying the IDF enabled Palestinians to receive food and medical equipment, and has fixed the water and electricity infrastructure in Rafah. He added that Palestinians had dug arms-smuggling tunnels inside mosques and schools and under children's beds in private homes. Mofaz said innocent people were hurt because the terrorists chose to operate in a dense population center, according to the report. [4]

UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees in the territories, also said that the IDF had destroyed a total of 155 buildings in Rafah over the past month, leaving 1,960 people homeless. It described the period as one of the most destructive in Rafah since a Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.[5]

Protesters incident

A group of Palestinians numbering several hundred approached Israeli military positions and armored vehicles. When called upon to stop, a smaller group continued to approach. Israeli troops fired tank shells in front of or toward the Palestinians. Approximately 10 Palestinians were killed. In a statement the army claimed the protesters included armed gunmen.[6] Palestinian witnesses claim there were no armed people mingling with the protesters. [7] [8] Palestinian sources initially reported 22 dead and dozens injured. The number was later reduced to 10, a number confirmed by the Red Cross; however, the IDF claims only seven persons were killed, five armed men and two youths. Israeli officers accused the Palestinians of inflating the number of casualties for a greater international effect as was done by the Palestinian Authority in the Jenin.

This event caused outrage among Israeli left-wing activists and helped fuel an international outcry against the operation in Rafah, in a repetition of the effect of inflated claims after Jenin. The IDF issued a statement saying it is sorry for the death of any protesters but denying they deliberately shot them. The Israeli press reported that a tank shot four shells at an empty house in order to deter protesters from marching toward them. Apparently one shell missed and hit the protesters.

Another explanation being suggested by the IDF is that the shell triggered a chain of explosive charges, planted there a few days before by Palestinian militants. [9] Palestinians consider such claims completely baseless. The IDF is investigating the incident.


As of May 23, 2004 only one smuggling tunnel had been found. That tunnel was loaded with explosives. [10] Since then 2 more tunnels have been destroyed. Israel claims more than 40 militants have been killed and an unknown number wounded.

Pictures from Rafah show a devastated city: most of the roads were damaged due to explosive charges and the use of armored bulldozers to plow up the asphalt in order to expose and detonate explosives planted under the roads, thus clearing a way for armored fighting vehicles and troops. On some roads there are still sand barriers.

There are contradictory reports on the number of houses demolished. The U.N. relief agency UNRWA and other rights groups said the army had demolished some 180 homes. Later UNRWA changed their claims and said 45 houses were razed, leaving about 575 people homeless. [11] Several UNRWA press releases contain numbers that vary significantly over the course of a few days. (See UNRWA) The Israeli Army reports 56 structures have been demolished. Additional structures have been damaged to varying degrees due to weapons fire.[12]

Human rights group report on the harsh conditions in Rafah: in some places sewage and water pipes were damaged due to operations by bulldozers, resulting in floods and risk of disease. According to the IDF, Israel offered humanitarian aid and allowed NGOs and welfare organizations to enter Rafah and distribute food and medicine. Israeli supreme court chief judge professor Aharon Barak, praised the Israeli Defence Forces for their humanitarian aid in Rafah. [13]

As of May 24, 2004 Brigadier-General Shmuel Zakai, the commander of forces in Gaza reported in a press conference that 41 fighters and 12 civilians had been killed.

"We killed 41 terrorists, found and destroyed three tunnels and a hole used for digging a tunnel. We arrested terror activists connected to the building of the tunnels."

Zakkai also said that:

"56 structures have been demolished by the IDF. Most of the buildings that were destroyed were sites of firing upon IDF forces and others were demolished because they were used for preparing explosives. Additionally, some buildings were damaged because IDF forces were forced to go through them in order to avoid explosive charges on the streets. Among the houses demolished is the house of the terrorist who murdered Tali Hatuel and her 4 daughters."

Source: Hebrew, English 1

Palestinians report that 55 people were killed but claim that "only 12 were known to be armed". They also said more than 70 houses were demolished.[citation needed]

See also

  • Rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel
  • Israeli casualties of war


1 Haaretz translation differs little from what appears here and has some mistakes in content, therefore the Wikipedia translation of the Hebrew source is the one to appear in the body of this article.

External links

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