(photo credit: )
They hiked over 40 kilometers, killed close to 20 Hizbullah guerrillas and spent 32 days in Lebanon without a single casualty. But on Monday, soldiers from the Herev Battalion emerged from battle, sweaty, dusty and tired making history twice - as the first battalion to enter Lebanon and the one to spend the longest amount of time deep in enemy territory under Operation Change of Direction.
The battalion, consisting strictly of Druse soldiers from northern Israel, was on its way to take control of the northern border with Lebanon on July 12, when Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were kidnapped in a cross-border Hizbullah attack. Commanded by Lt.-Col. Wajdi Sahran, the battalion secured the area of the kidnapping and assisted in the evacuation of the dead soldiers from the scene of the attack. Little did he know that the kidnapping would change his battalion forever.
Several days later, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam decided to send Sahran and his men into Lebanon, making Herev the first full battalion to invade Hizbullah strongholds during this war. Days earlier, the elite Maglan and Egoz Units suffered heavy casualties during clashes in Lebanon and Adam sent in Herev, a battalion known for its vast experience in Lebanon and intimate familiarity with the tough terrain.
The battalion went into Lebanon during the first week of the war and was first sent to Marwahin, a known Hizbullah stronghold in the central sector of southern Lebanon. There it spent three days before being sent off to Maroun a-Ras, scene of heavy clashes between Maglan, Egoz and Hizbullah just days earlier. The battalion spent 10 days there until it was again sent off to Itoran for another week.
In every village, the routine was the same, recalled Maj. Shadi Abu Fair, the battalion's deputy commander on Monday from the lobby of the Ginossar Hotel on the banks of the Kinneret, taken over by the IDF and used to give soldiers respite before returning to battle.
Why did Herev succeed where so many other battalions appeared to have failed? "We are a strong unit that has always fought in the North," Abu Faris explained. "While other units went to fight in the West Bank we stayed in the North and are the battalion with the most experience and time in Lebanon."
Due to its success following 32 days in Lebanon, Abu Faris revealed that the Northern Command was now considering turning the battalion into an elite unit like Egoz known for its expertise in fighting Hizbullah.
For Herev, the war in Lebanon was not just a war against a fierce enemy but was a war in defense of their home - not just the State of Israel, but their homes in the literal sense. All of the soldiers, without any exception, Abu Faris said, live in northern Israel and their homes came under the incessant Hizbullah Katyusha rocket attacks during the past 30 days of fighting.
"There are soldiers here whose homes were hit by Katyusha rockets," explained one of the soldiers, St.-Sgt. Eitan Agmi, whose relative was Wasim Nazil, one of the eight soldiers killed in the July 12 cross-border Hizbullah attack that sparked the war in Lebanon. "A mother of one of the soldiers was even hospitalized for several days after she was injured in a rocket attack."