A small team of Canadian special operations forces have deployed to Israel in the wake of the October 7 attack, Global News has learned from multiple sources with direct knowledge of the mission.
The deployment includes Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), Canada’s most elite and secretive military special forces unit. Joint Task Force 2 is Canada’s national mission force responsible for the most dangerous and sensitive missions the military undertakes, including counterterrorism and hostage rescue.
Sources told Global News the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) troops in Israel are dealing with security at the Canadian embassy (including any possible future evacuation of essential staff) and liaising with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
That is consistent with what retired Major-General Denis Thompson, a former CANSOFCOM commander, would expect, telling Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block that the special operations forces typically deploy to crisis areas quickly owing to their high state of readiness and agility, activating an “immediate task force” which enables them to draw on JTF2 and other units to accomplish their mission.
Thompson also commanded the Multinational Force and Observers during Israel’s last ground operation into Gaza in 2014. The peacekeeping force was established by the 1978 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty known as the Camp David Accords.
The Canadian government often deploy special operations forces into tense environments to assist with intelligence gathering, evacuation planning, to provide security for embassies and to liaise with host militaries.
“There’s certainly a close relationship between Canada Special Operations Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces… so there’s nothing surprising here and it’s pretty much par for the course,” Thompson said, stressing he had no insider knowledge of current JTF2 plans.
JTF2 are also Canada’s designated hostage rescue unit and Thompson said they could be involved in helping the IDF plan rescue operations — but he did not suggest Canadian special operations forces would be planning any independent rescue efforts or participating with the Israeli efforts.
Despite being Canada’s designated hostage rescue unit, JTF2 has never carried out a hostage rescue operation.
Hamas and other militant groups claimed to have taken around 230 hostages on Oct. 7, when they attacked Israel and killed more than 1,400 people, according to the Israeli government. Two Canadians are presumed missing, though Global Affairs Canada has not confirmed Hamas captured them.
“There are still two Canadians missing. I believe they could well be hostages, in which case they may be part of the hostage rescue planning” Thompson said on The West Block, stressing he had no insider knowledge of current JTF2 plans.
Similar deployments took place in Ukraine and Afghanistan and CANSOFCOM assaulters were involved in the evacuation planning for Sudan.
Multiple sources said this deployment should not be interpreted as Canadian troops fighting or preparing to fight in Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel was in a “second war of independence” (referencing the 1948 Arab-Israeli War when the newly declared Israeli state and Arab nations fought), Thompson told Stephenson he expects the IDF’s ground offensive to take months to complete its stated goal of destroying Hamas.
“This is extremely complicated,” he said.
“Hamas is — they’re on the home turf.”
Thompson said the Iraqi army, with American help, needed nine months to clear Mosul of ISIS fighters in 2017 and that Hamas has had much more time than ISIS did to prepare its defences, since no Israeli forces have been in Gaza since 2014.
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He told Stephenson the recent IDF raids into the enclave were probably meant to gather intelligence and provide reconnaissance, which will help soldiers systematically isolate individual neighbourhoods.
“By isolate, I mean surround (with) armoured vehicles to make sure nothing gets in or out. And then they will clear it – buildings, ruins and tunnels in a meticulous fashion, in an effort to kill all the Hamas fighters, to destroy any equipment and weapons that they find” and rescue the roughly 230 hostages, Thompson said.
He told Stephenson Hamas will likely deploy improvised explosives and anti-tank guided weapons to stop the IDF and destroy Israeli armoured vehicles.
He said that’s why Israel is using its Merkava IV tanks, “which is almost indestructible” and is capable of shooting down incoming missiles.
“But at the ranges we’re talking about here in a closed in urban environment, it will be extremely tough for the Israelis,” Thompson said.
“And the advantage will, in some respects, be in Hamas’s side.”
Some of the worst fighting will likely come in the militant group’s tunnels underneath Gaza.
“It’s close-quarter combat that is extremely, extremely hazardous,” Thompson said.
He suggested IDF soldiers would likely use small drones to explore the underground network before sending troops in, and also said that Israelis could also use trained dogs with cameras that send a live images back to IDF personnel in order to plan their attack.
And while soldiers will likely be using night-vision goggles, Thompson said those need some light to work and that probably isn’t available underground, especially with Israel having cut electricity to Gaza. The IDF could use infrared floodlights to help, but Thompson warned Hamas fighters may also have the same equipment.
“It’s going to be a tough fight,” he said.
“And there are there will be heavy casualties”