This is a story that ends in tears.
Last Friday, Sgt. Guy Levy, who lived in Kfar Vradim, was killed and another five soldiers injured.
They belonged to the 7th Armored Brigade, under the command of Col. Nadav Lotan. The brigade consists of infantry, armor, engineering and air forces. I joined them several hours prior to the event. I arrived early, so we set out earlier than planned. The direction: a neighborhood in the center of the Strip.
It’s a story that begins with a smile, but ends in tears.
We pulled out from the brigade HQ in Lotan’s jeep. A short journey and we were in the heart of the assembly area. With Sgt. Arbel, the brigade’s communications officer, I am part of the brigade’s security force.
I was informed by 20-yearold Pvt. Omri from Ein Harod that: “In May the commander informed us that if there would be an operation, our job would be to secure it.”
The journey began and I sat in the front. Seemed safest.
A minute later, in the early afternoon, I considered sticking my head out of the “shelf” – the soldiers’ opening in the APC. Omri, who is used to the inside of the vehicle, offered me a bottle of cold water and a discussion of the fighting from the point of view of a soldier who has only just completed basic training and has already found himself in a real battle field.
I saw the Strip from close up, nine years since I last set foot there, on the eve of the withdrawal.
In the background I heard explosions. Everyone is alert. In the commander’s cockpit Sgt. Yigael was instructing the drivers. Next to me are Yali, Arbel and Sec.-Lt. Shaul, the team commander. Below: Adar, Omer and Omri and an open landscape that indicates a huge, sad town, a coast and endless blue seas.
In our path are demolished houses, a cell area that the IDF scanned and destroyed after ensuring that it had served as a source of rocket fire and terrorist activity. We approached a tunnel exposed the day before.
Stopping for a moment, the commander issued an order: “Diamond, Diamond, move.”
The sun beats down fiercely but no one complained. Everyone knows exactly what he has to do. A minute later everything changed. The smile I’ve been unable to wipe off my face since being told that I was going in, disappeared at once.
Boom. An enormous explosion.
And another. Followed by a call to all the forces: “Purple Rain." Mortar fire in military jargon.
A shell fell 20 meters from us sending shrapnel flying in every direction.
There are injured soldiers from this attack. Everyone goes back to the vehicles. Now no one has his head out and the openings are closed and we continued advancing before disembarking again from our vehicles.
The forces deploy all around.
We advanced in two orderly columns behind the commander.
I asked Nadav what the difference was between the Second Lebanon War and Gaza.
Between a war that was claimed to have been fought from plasma screens, where the senior officers were behind in the command pit and a war whose front consists of the highest ranks and which exacts the highest price.
Nadav doesn’t bat an eyelid: “In the end you decide, according to your assessment of the situation, how deep you’re going in and how you’re going to lead the troops. You have to be constantly on the move. In Gaza, unlike Lebanon, the distance between the front and back lines is significantly smaller.”
Nadav, 41, is married to Hagit and the proud father of four boys: Ori (11), Adam (8), Roni (5) and two-year-old Yair. It’s been many weeks since he’s seen any of them. He started his military career in this battalion, as a soldier and filled a series of impressive posts on the way, including battalion commander, Operations Officer in Judea and Samaria, Commander of a reserve brigade and head of Armored Corps Doctrine, where he was employed mainly with the technology of the “Raincoat” system for protecting tanks. On the way he also managed to complete degrees in Law and Business Administration.
As we deployed in a vantage point overlooking the area, Arbel approached Nadav and informed him that there were several “flowers,” in other words, casualties. The picture becomes clearer. The brigade encountered mortar and antitank fire. One of the casualties was mortally wounded and soon pronounced dead. Everyone is involved in battle. The pain is fierce, but we have to go on, to be professional. The forces responded with artillery fire.
Nadav wanted to check what means he has at his disposal.
A search of the area indicates clearly that there is fire from the direction of the UNRWA school in the center of the Strip. An order is given to fire a Tamuz rocket toward the school. OC Command, Sami Turgeman, who will later join the battalion, says in response: “It’s another example of Hamas’s cynical use of civilian installations for achieving terrorist objectives.”
Lt. Col. Muli was attached to us, though he appears far too young for his job and position.
He reviewed the recent activity.
“We have exposed a significant tunnel and shaft,” he explains, “where we found large quantities of weaponry. The 7th Armored Corp Brigade has been active in the field since the beginning of the ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ It has succeeded in exposing 26 shafts, 14 tunnels and killing 60 terrorists.
On the first day of the ground offensive the brigade exposed the central shaft of an attack tunnel that reaches into Israeli territory. The shaft was adjacent to the courtyard of a mosque where we found military uniforms and equipment.”
Nadav is aware of the extensive civilian support. “This is one campaign that enjoys a very broad consensus, and I’ve taken part in several,” he recalled. “What we have here is an impossible situation that’s been going on for a very long time. We’ve prepared for this campaign for the last six months, with focus on the tunnels. Thirteen weeks of very intense exercises.”
No one can reassure St.-Sgt. Levy’s parents. We were making our way back into Israeli territory, to the brigade’s HQ. The OC Southern Command arrived at the war room and invited everyone in for assessments. I understand that were it not for Nadav’s awareness in the field, I myself could have been included in the high casualty list of this war. On my way home I allowed myself to shed a tear.
Silently. I don’t know anyone of them personally, but they are all our sons and it hurts to lose another child. As I said – this is a story that ends in tears.