The IDF officer who risked it all fighting Gaza terrorists

Captain Dean Levi, 24, who lost comrades while defending the South

Dean Levi 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Dean Levi 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
On Monday, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will host dozens of army commanders and soldiers at a succa at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, as part of an annual event held to salute the bravery of frontline fighters.
One of the guests will be Capt. Dean Levi, 24, who has seen more than his fair share of harrowing, deadly battles with Gazan terrorists while defending the southern border.
Today, Levi is an advanced-training battalion commander in the 460th Armored Brigade, where he passes on his wealth of experience to future generations of tank crews.
He risked his life repeatedly by leading his men on counter-terrorism missions, engaging terrorists and losing comrades along the way.
As a company commander in the 77th Armored Battalion, Levi spent 14 months on the Gaza border in 2010- 2011, a time when terrorists repeatedly tried to plant explosives along the border and infiltrate Israel to attack frontier communities.
“We had two quiet months that year,” Levi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
That was before March 2010 brought a host of security incidents.
“Lots of explosives were planted in the north and south of the Gaza sector along the fence,” he recalled. There were frequent alerts of terrorist infiltrations.
Tanks patrolled the area, responding to the alerts.
Then, one evening, infantrymen from the Golani Brigade arrived to replace Levi’s tanks along the border, when an infiltration alert went out on the army’s communications network.
“The infantry were getting ready with their equipment.
We identified three infiltrators, and the last of our tanks had just been loaded onto a trailer which set off,” Levi recounted. On foot, Levi led a team of Armored Corps and Golani soldiers toward a wheat field, in the direction the suspicious figures, after a visual identification.
“I understood if they entered the forest we’d lose them. They were heading for [Kibbutz] Kissufim,” he said. Suddenly, the infantry squad commander called his soldiers back, as they were unequipped. Levi was left with two tank crew members.
A tragic error occurred, when an army patrol arrived, and misidentified Levi and his soldiers as the terrorists. They fired more than 60 bullets at them. “We shouted, ‘IDF IDF!’ The infiltrators were on their knees and had surrendered, no longer posing a threat,” he said.
By the time the patrol realized its mistake, St.-Sgt.
Gabriel Chefitz, from Zichron Ya’acov, was hit in chest by friendly fire.
“The bullet passed through both lungs. He lay on his side. I turned him around. My whole hand was covered in blood,” Levi recalled with a deep sigh.
Army medics were unable to save him, and he died on the scene.
“We were stunned. We stayed another night in the area, then we went to the funeral. We met with battalion and brigade commanders to discuss the incident,” said Levi. A few days later, he was back on active security missions at another location along the border.
Just as Levi unloaded the last of his tanks from the trailer, he spotted a vehicle on the Gazan side of the border speeding toward the fence. The army communications network reported armed terrorists planting explosives.
“I scrambled everyone to their tanks. We had minimal equipment. I reported to the Golani Brigade’s deputy battalion commander, Maj. Eliraz Peretz, on the radio, saying we were ready. He instructed me to approach the terrorists’ location,” Levi said.
Upon hearing the tanks, the terrorists began retreating.
Levi fired a shell from his tank, and a second tank fired two more, killing one terrorist. A second hid in ditch with his weapon, waiting for the soldiers.
Peretz decided to lead a platoon across the border to confirm that the second terrorist has been killed. But the terrorist opened fire at the advancing soldiers, killing Peretz and a second Golani soldier, and wounding two others.
“The bullet tore through Peretz’s chest, from armpit to armpit,” Levi said, with another deep sigh, struggling with the memory.
A company commander stormed the position with his troops, killing the gunman.
Levi directed his tanks to the scene, to provide cover for the infantry who evacuated their casualties and equipment.
The firefight was far from over; 12 terrorists remained holed up in apartment buildings in Gaza, near the fence.
They fired mortars and sniper rifles at the soldiers.
Levi’s tanks killed them all.
That evening, a D9 armored bulldozer was sent in to demolish the buildings.
The forces left the area shortly after 5 a.m.
“I went over these incidents in my mind, again and again, looking for lessons to learn,” Levi said. He spoke of the trauma of losing fellow soldiers, but added that the fact that his company was able to destroy a terrorist cell boosted morale. “This kept us going,” he said.
Levi passes on his battle experience “at every opportunity” during training, he said.
“Chefitz was Zionist who was committed to the missions,” he said.
“I feel committed to pass these things on to the next generation of soldiers.”