Gadi Eisenkot at a memorial for the 73 soldiers who died when two helicopters crashed en route to southern Lebanon in 1997..
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Hundreds gathered at Kibbutz Dafna in the Galilee Wednesday night to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the IDF where 73 soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided while en route to southern Lebanon.
President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the families of the victims were in attendance.
On February 4, 1997, two Israeli Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 “Yasur” helicopters carrying IDF troops collided in midair killing everyone on board. One of the helicopters crashed near Kibbutz Dafna and the other near She’ar Yashuv. A memorial now stands in Kibbutz Dafna for the victims, with 73 boulders, each with the name of one of the fallen, surrounding a small pool.
Speaking at the ceremony, Rivlin addressed the families saying that “we carry the horrifying words ‘helicopter disaster’ etched on our hearts forever” and that the tragedy reflected Israel as a whole as the fallen soldiers had come from communities across the country.
“The family of the ‘helicopter disaster’ is the family of Israel. Jews, Druze and Bedouin, secular and religious, from all communities, cities, kibbutzim and moshavim, the center and the periphery, sons who were a cross-section of society,” he said.
Rivlin also used the event to warn about the continued threat that Hezbollah poses to Israel, saying that “then, as now, Israel faces the challenge of protecting its citizens.”
“In the decade since the Second Lebanon War ended, relative quiet has prevailed along the northern border. In Zaria and Malkia the farmers are working their fields, and the bed-and-breakfasts are full. In Kiryat Shemona and Metulla, a new generation of children has matured that isn’t familiar with the fear of the sirens and the Katyushas or the smell of the bomb shelters.”
“We can go from zero to a hundred in seconds. We have not forgotten what a cruel enemy we face,” Rivlin said. “There’s no real quiet when Hezbollah is rearming. There’s no quiet in the aspirations and plans of Hezbollah, an organization supported by Iran, which tries incessantly to harm Israel.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the bereaved families that their unity has shown the unique aspect of Israeli unity, “a true unity of human beings born in pain but also in determination.”
“I can say with pride that the IDF’s soldiers and commanders continue to face all challenges bravely and responsibly thanks to the paths of values paved by your sons. It is because of their willingness to sacrifice their lives due to their love of the country and their belief in the justice of their mission.”
“This is the way which will lead us to implement the goals we face: to strengthen our deterrence and to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel. If somebody will force a war upon us, the IDF will know how to achieve a crushing and clear victory in any campaign or battle,” Liberman continued.
“We will continue to fulfill their mission, to protect the state they so loved, to strengthen our forces and continue to live for the sake of our living children and for the sake of those who are not with us. This is the way of the State of Israel.”
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot stated that the results of the Second Lebanon War created the best security reality in decades.
“We are now only a few kilometers from the northern border and its residents have witnessed its unprecedented calm for more than a decade”
But Eisenkot noted the challenges of Hezbollah, its continued growth and ongoing attempts to transfer advanced weaponry from Syria to Lebanon.
“For many years, the IDF has dramatically improved its defensive and offensive capabilities, dramatically. The IDF is prepared for any confrontation, in the north and in the south. Our competence and readiness is high and it can adjust itself for war,” he stated.