A fire destroyed Shimon "Kushi" Rimon's KM 101 roadside rest stop on the Arava road Monday night, destroying the restaurant's adjacent zoo and killing all of the animals, including rare crocodiles and snakes measuring more than seven meters.
The rest stop, located about 87 kilometers from Eilat, is practically a national institution, where many Israelis stop on the way to the resort town. It had long been known for its good food and eccentric zoo, which included a fierce-looking African tiger named Rhumba.
The fire, which likely came about due to an electrical shortage, wrecked the restaurant's bathroom facilities as well as the zoo, but left the restaurant itself intact.
Rimon, a famed soldier from Ariel Sharon's Battalion 101 who lent the restaurant its name, was devastated as were the rest of the employees, a rest stop spokesman told The Jerusalem Post
The zoo, which housed exotic snakes and lizards from Asia, Australia, and America; a lethal tarantula; Zahava, a three-meter African python; iguanas; turtles and crocodiles, has "disappeared and been burned. It's all dead," said the spokesman.
"All that survived were two 40 centimeter lizards."
"It's not easy to see it," the spokesman said, "We have put our lives into this; everyone is in shock. It's really terrible luck."
The restaurant is currently debating whether to rebuild the animal exhibit.
Rebuilding would cost a lot of money and the restaurant might be short on funds, the spokesman said.
"Call back in a month and ask then," he added.
In his colorful lifetime Rimon has been a heroic commando, maverick peace junkie, successful businessman, and reformed criminal. He has 12 children, most of whom live with their mother in Eilat.
On his induction into the IDF, Rimon joined the elite anti-guerrilla Unit 101 under the command of a dashing young officer named Ariel Sharon. The unit's daring overt and covert cross-border reprisal raids are the stuff of local legend.
During the 70s he was sentenced to nine years in a German prison on what he insists were trumped-up drug charges.
Four years ago, Eilat policemen swooped upon KM 101, confiscated 19 gambling machines, and questioned Rimon on suspicion of operating an illegal casino on the premises.
Daniel Ben-Tal contributed to this article.