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The thing that most impressed Capt. Yisrael Friedler, commander of A Company in the Golani Brigade's Battalion 51, during the bloody battle in Bint Jbail on Wednesday, was the way the junior commanders conducted themselves after their officers had been hit by Hizbullah gunfire.
"The moment their officers went down," he told The Jerusalem Post Thursday, "the sergeants took their radios and began reporting in and managing the battle, while at the same time taking charge of evacuating the wounded. It was the height of professionalism," he said.
The firefight began early in the morning when two companies, A and C, began advancing down one of Bint Jbail's streets on parallel routes. Contrary to previous reports, Friedler said, the Hizbullah fighters were not lying in ambush. "Both sides were unaware of each other and it was actually one of our soldiers who saw them first and opened fire."
But the Hizbullah men were in upper stories of buildings and had a commanding view of the IDF force. In the initial firing, 30 members of C Company, a third of its total strength, were hit, as was the battalion's deputy commander, Maj. Roi Klein.
Eight soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded in the battle. "It was all so very fast," remembered Friedler, "the shooting, the shouting, cries of the wounded and the warnings over the radio sets."
Most of the fighting took place at extremely short-range, sometimes only a few meters, with both sides using hand grenades and anti-tank missiles.
Friedler's company began laying down supporting fire to enable the remaining soldiers of C Company to evacuate their wounded while continuing to shoot at the enemy. Two additional Golani companies were rushed in to help with the evacuation.
"The real heroism was that of the stretcher-bearers who went in to the killing zone no less than six times to carry the wounded out to the building where we began treating them," said Friedler.
Hours later, IAF Blackhawk helicopters managed to land under heavy fire and fly the wounded to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
The commanders decided not to risk helicopters to evacuate the dead; they were carried out under cover of darkness by a company from the Golani's Brigade 12.
Five soldiers from A Company were also wounded in the fighting, including Friedler: A bullet went right through his hand. He continued commanding the force and was only evacuated the next day to hospital, where he underwent surgery.
"The battle began to their advantage. They were in a much better position, but we won and killed at least 20 Hizbullah fighters. None of the soldiers panicked, they were professional throughout, and that's our advantage over Hizbullah," Friedler said.
As part of their standard exercises, Golani soldiers practice scenarios where all the commanders and half of the soldiers are wounded, "but nothing can really prepare you for it when it really happens," he said.
A Company was has been in action for the entire last month, ever since the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit at Kerem Shalom on June 25. For two weeks, the company took part in the battalion's offensive against Kassam missile crews near Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, and they were sent north shortly after the battle against Hizbullah began on July 12.
Friedler will be 27 in a week. He grew up in Jerusalem after emigrating from Brazil at the age of 11. Before his army service he studied at the Ma'aleh Gilboa Yeshiva.
His first child is expected to be born in a month's time. His has spent his entire military career in the Golani, mostly with its elite antitank Orev unit, where he was a team commander and the deputy commander of the unit. He took command of A Company nine months ago.
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