Yom Kippur War, Israeli-Syrian border - Leading Golani’s 13th Brigade, Third Company Commander (formerly) Lieutenant Gabi Ophir and his men recaptured the front lines between northern Outposts 104 and 105 on Mount Hermonit and Mount Varda, north of the historic Vale of Tears.
At the start of the war, the Syrians shelled the front lines with heavy artillery, tank fire, and fighter jets in a ruthless attempt to capture Outpost 104, and at one point had completely surrounded one of the stations. Although massively outnumbered at an estimated ratio of 30:1, Israeli soldiers fought a heroic battle, barely managing to hold their positions. The Golani Brigade was called in to reinforce the faltering forces, and on the fourth day of exhausting battle, when Israeli soldiers were on the verge of collapse and surrender, the Syrian enemy finally withdrew.
Nearby, additional battles were being fought in the Outpost 105 region, where enemy forces battled intensely to capture the outpost. On the second and third day of war, Syrian infantry penetrated the region, advancing as far as Mount Varda and Mount Hermonit and encamping south of the Druze town of Buqata. Brigadier General Amir Drori, z”l, sent his Golani 12th Brigade, which had been stationed in the Druze village of Masa’de, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Yankele Shachar, H”yd, to counterattack. In a dazzling victory, the 12th Brigade successfully eliminated the Syrian enemy, although the Brigade suffered numerous casualties, including Brigade commander Shachar who was killed in action. Throughout the holding-defense battle, Ophir’s Third Company, which encompassed only 60 soldiers, refused to surrender any of its outposts, battling intrepidly against the enemy. Even when a general order was given to prepare to retreat from the front, the heroic Golani soldiers refused to submit, remaining strong until the very end despite the vastly uneven numbers.
Major General (formerly Lieutenant) Gabi Ophir reminisces: “The Syrians descended upon us with heavy artillery, and a hail of gunfire and smoke. At that moment, I thought to myself that our company would never be able to absorb the numbers of dead or wounded...”
Following the IDF’s counterattack, Gabi Ophir stood at the edge of Outpost 104 together with several Brigade medics. Out of nowhere two MIG fighter jets appeared from the east, flying west over the Hermon. Spying a concentration of soldiers, the pilots pivoted south to attack. “We all leaped out of our vehicles and took cover, shooting desperately at the planes with our weapons. The planes were shelling all around us, and I felt an awful pain explode in my legs… We felled one of the two planes, but there were several wounded aside for me. The Syrian pilot and I were evacuated together to the hospital in Safed…
“I transferred command of the company to my deputy, Lieutenant Tzvi Halbrecht, and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. Thereafter, I rejoined my Brigade in the attrition battles in the heart of Syria, Mount Shamas, Mizraa’at, and Beit Jann.”
Gabi Ophir was wounded a second time in 1976 while fighting terror in northern settlements on the Lebanese border, yet once again, returned to serve in the Brigade as soon as he recovered.
Throughout 33 years of distinguished service in the Israel Defense Forces, Major General Gabi Ophir has devoted his life to achieving security for the citizens of Israel and saving lives both in Israel and around the world. Simultaneously, he brings light, hope, and happiness to thousands of disabled youth in Israel.
In 1976, Ophir participated in Operation Entebbe, one of the most courageous exploits in IDF history. He also served in several senior commanding positions in the Golani Brigade, climbing the chain of command to become Brigade Commander. Later, he served as commander of the Judea and Samaria Region during the period of the Intifada, building and establishing numerous outposts in the region and developing an innovative system for dealing with new security threats.
He was subsequently promoted to commander of Northern Command on the length of the Lebanese Border, safeguarding Israeli citizens against Hezbollah attacks in the north and leading the Operation of Accountability in 1993. He was next appointed again as commander of Judea and Samaria, this time in the capacity of Brigadier General, where he was assigned to implement the agreements reached in the Oslo Accords. His final position in the IDF before retiring from military service was serving as Home Front Commander from 1997-2001. During this period, the State of Israel equipped its citizens for internal and external attacks, including unconventional warfare, chemical and biological warfare, and major natural disasters. Concurrently, Ophir led several international rescue missions, assisting countries around the world, including the USA, during the car bombing in Nairobi, Kenya.
But beyond his striking military achievements on the battlefield, Maj. Gen. Ophir also demonstrates true valor in the personal realm—his own personal Home Front.
Gabi is the father of Ronit, now a grown woman with Williams syndrome. Ophir has made it his life’s calling and spurred a national revolution to ease the plight of people with disabilities and facilitate their integration into the IDF and mainstream society. Since Ronit’s early youth, Gabi has made tremendous efforts to implement various therapies, soliciting the cooperation of Israeli clinical, developmental, and cognitive psychologist Professor Reuven Feuerstein, winner of the Israel Prize, to improve her condition and facilitate her integration into society.
Working together, the army general and world-acclaimed psychologist conceived of a brilliant initiative to help people with special needs integrate into military service. Then-adolescent Ronit Ophir was one of the very first to participate in the IDF as part of this program, although her identity was kept secret so she would not benefit from preferential treatment. “I will never forget the sense of accomplishment and joy that Ronit radiated during her service and the resulting positive changes,” expresses Ophir.
Ronit successfully completed her military service, and her triumph paved the way for countless others. In time, Special in Uniform, which is the flagship program of the Lend a Hand to A Special Child Association and sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, was relayed to the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ariel Almog. It is a groundbreaking initiative of the Israel Defense Forces that incorporates young people with disabilities into the military and helps them integrate long-term into society and the workforce. The focus of the program is on ability, not disability, upon utilizing and emphasizing the talents and capacities of people with disabilities in order to foster independence and integration into mainstream society despite severe physical challenges.
Special in Uniform is internationally acclaimed for its unique, experiential and effective programs in which participants undergo evaluation and assessment by a professional team, followed by a three-month course teaching life and occupational skills. One of the major goals of the project is to imbue young people with disabilities with pride in themselves and their abilities, to function independently, and contribute positively to society. Presently, there are some 300 Israeli youth serving in the IDF’s Special in Uniform program which operates in bases that span the country from Haifa to Eilat, with more still to come.
What began as Gabi Ophir’s personal dream and initiative to boost his own child’s success, sense of belonging, independence, and personal fulfillment has transformed the lives of thousands of youths in Israel with disabilities and their families. “I know what military service gave to me, and I wanted my daughter and her friends to be able to experience this unmatched satisfaction, as well."