This (Part Two) is the interview with an Israeli solder who took part in the 2006 war in South Lebanon. It is an excerpt from Tragedy in South Lebanon.
Our unit was ordered into South Lebanon. I’m not supposed to talk about my feelings because an Israeli Defense Forces soldier is tough and is supposed to always be battle ready. But this time when I crossed the Lebanese border my heart sank into my stomach. I lost my best friend to one of Hezbollah’s roadside bombs in 2000 shortly before we withdrew and the last thing I ever wanted to do was return to this rugged, rocky death trap of a country, where Hezbollah fighters knew every shrub and rock formation and could have been hiding anywhere. And if rumors were correct, they now had some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world. Alright, I’ll say it: I felt like I was walking to my death.
There were other unsettling things too about this particular war which added to my anxiety. Rumors abounded about reserve units being sent to the front without proper training. These were the guys who were supposed to back us up. And there’s another thing that didn’t bode well with a lot of us. Our Air Force had already spent two weeks carpet bombing the south without much success. What the hell were we supposed to be able to accomplish?
So there I was marching toward Bint Jbeil, a small village less than three miles from the Israeli border. From a distance it looked like a lovely place surrounded by wildflowers even in the heat of summer. In some other life I might have been walking to a neighbor’s garden party.
We were some minutes behind an advance patrol up ahead. We were approaching the outskirts of the village when we heard shots and explosions. It was obvious our soldiers up ahead were taking hits but there was nothing we could do. I ran inside a building and up to the second floor to try to locate the source of fire. Hezbollah had eyes everywhere. They were watching our every move and like idiots we walked right into their trap. I didn’t have time to sneak a look outside when a missile hit the house. In the momentary stillness after the explosion, I could hear our radio operator on the ground floor calling in our location and asking for help. I was relieved but before I could cross the room to the stairs a second missile exploded within feet of where I was standing. The blast knocked me up against the wall. My chest and arm got sprayed with shrapnel. I was momentarily blinded by a bright light before the room filled with smoke. I had difficulty breathing. I wanted to cough but when I tried I felt excruciating pain across my chest. And when I saw the gaping holes in my arm I almost passed out. I learned later that the metal shards had broken multiple bones in each arm. The medic in our unit tended to my wounds as best he could and taped up my arms. In the meantime we learned that the helicopter couldn’t get in close enough to evacuate us so we had to find a way to get closer to the border. I’m not sure how my buddies managed. All I remember is leaning on two strong shoulders. I was told repeatedly to keep my feet moving until we got to a point where we could safely board the helicopter back to Haifa.
All these months later do I regret having gone into Lebanon? Of course not! I love my country and we needed to fight this conflict to secure our northern border. But where are we as a nation now that the war has ended; are we more secure? Did we achieve our goal of destroying Hezbollah? I am young and don’t want to spend my whole life preparing for and fighting wars. In Israel we have a war mentality. We never seem to talk peace. It is as if saying that word is being disloyal to the State. I’m ready to live in peace with my neighbor. I think Hezbollah would do the same given the choice. Why aren’t our leaders willing to take the leap?
As I said earlier, I am no stranger to Lebanon but this time around Hezbollah was using a broad range of anti-tank missiles. Back in the ‘80s, when I last encountered them, they were a militia. Now, they are a full-fledged army trained and equipped by Iran. But then, we’re equipped by the US so what’s the difference. In this war they drew us in like bees to honey and then pounded us almost to death. In the end, it was their territory they are defending. We would have done the same if someone had invaded our country and tried to take our land.
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