Kfir Brigade commander: Always be prepared for an attack

Col. Eran Oliel recounts his time in south Lebanon and how it affects his command today

Col. Eran Oliel (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Col. Eran Oliel
“You always have to be prepared for an attack,” Col. Eran Oliel told The Jerusalem Post last week while recalling his experiences as a soldier in Israel’s security belt in southern Lebanon more than 20 years ago.
Oliel, the commander of the Kfir Brigade, spoke to the Post just days before Golani soldier Staff-Sergeant Amit Ben-Yigal, 21, was killed after a large block struck his head during a raid in the West Bank village of Yabed on Tuesday.
Oliel did not take part in the Lebanon withdrawal, but he spent several years there, and they had a lasting impression on him as a commander who believes soldiers have to be ready for anything – the expected and the unexpected.
“It was a time when we completed the mission as best as we could,” he told the Post. “We lost a lot of friends and soldiers who fell carrying out that mission. I grew as a soldier and as an officer.”
Oliel first entered Lebanon a month after he was drafted into the 101st Paratroopers Battalion in 1996. He spent two years as a platoon leader and company commander.
His time at posts along the Litani River, where he spent months with his troops, made him realize how important it is to keep operational readiness at a high level and to always be ready for the enemy, Oliel said.
“There could be months of quiet, and then Boom! Something would happen,” he said. “I always had to believe that an attack could happen at any moment. Whenever the enemy wanted, they could attack us. So we worked to protect our posts every day, including filling hundreds of sandbags. It’s the same now in the West Bank and how it was in Gaza before the disengagement.”
Oliel remembered one incident in which Hezbollah fired mortar rounds at his post for 45 minutes.
“I remember the sounds of the mortars striking the roof,” he said. “There were only two times that we had time to fire back, and there were other troops still outside making sure that Hezbollah operatives would not be able to overrun the post. It really made me realize why we needed those hundreds of sandbags. It was a daily occurrence for many troops.”
One thing Oliel always spent time thinking about was an attack by Hezbollah.
“Every night we were warned about Hezbollah,” he said in his office at a base in southern Israel. “In those days we didn’t have cellphones. We were completely cut off. I remember that feeling. And in those days our capabilities as an army were not as good as what we have now. I would take a post in the winter, and the fog would roll in and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. But we knew that fog was the best time for Hezbollah to attack us.”
Oliel said the need to always be prepared for an attack is how he train soldiers under his command. He held a meeting with officers in his brigade in April and warned them that Palestinians may use the coronavirus crisis to carry out an attack against Israeli citizens, he told the Post. They prepared for such an option, deploying more troops to protect communities and roads and carried out fewer operations in West Bank Palestinian villages against suspects, he said.
There has been a decrease in violence during the height of the pandemic, but it has begun to increase as Israel plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
“The way you approach a mission in the West Bank is different than how it was in Lebanon, but you still need to prepare for everything,” Oliel said. “Like in Lebanon, soldiers look back into Israel and see the communities they are protecting.”
Hezbollah was then a guerrilla terrorist group and was not as strong or organized as it is today. But it knew the lay of the land and was able to build up firepower with snipers, rockets and other arms to use against soldiers. Dozens of attacks took place during the 18 years Israel occupied southern Lebanon, killing some 256 soldiers and wounding many others.
“Of course I was scared, but I was scared for my troops – that they would go out on a mission and never come back,” Oliel said. “I lost a good friend, Uriel Peretz, and another soldier in the company, Magen Freedman.”
Lt. Uriel Peretz was 22 and a commander in the Habokim Harishon Battalion when he was fatally wounded during a Hezbollah ambush in Lebanon in 1998.
“I was in the officers’ course with Uriel, and I remember he always wanted there to be a good atmosphere,” Oliel said. “But professionalism was always important for him. He was on the top bunk, and I was on the bottom bunk. Whenever I needed help, he was there. He always helped. He really loved the military and was so young when he was killed. There are so many stories about his bravery... he was killed because he went first.”
Oliel never questioned why the IDF was in Lebanon and never thought about the military withdrawing from the security zone.
“I was young and I never thought about a withdrawal,” he said. “It was a government decision. We never thought about why the military was in Lebanon either. We never thought about the future. We had a mission to protect Israeli citizens. It was clear to me when I looked ahead of me deeper into Lebanon, and then I would turn back and see Israeli communities. As someone who was there, it’s clear to me that we have to continue to teach our troops about always being prepared.”
Twenty years after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has turned into a terrorist army with an arsenal of more than 130,000 missiles and rockets aimed at the home front.
But Oliel does not think Hezbollah will try anything against the IDF.
“The IDF has capabilities it didn’t have back then,” he said. “Anything Hezbollah will try to do will lead to a very harsh response. I’d like to think that Hezbollah is smarter than attacking us. While they have precision missiles, it doesn’t matter how many they have. Israel will protect the country – strategic sites and civilians.”
Israeli politicians have warned that any future war with Hezbollah would send Lebanon “back to the stone age” if need be.
Nevertheless, until a peace treaty is signed with Lebanon, “the threat is there,” Oliel said.
Hezbollah “does not represent Lebanon,” he said. “When they prepare an attack, they don’t ask permission from Beirut. I believe that the price Hezbollah knows that it will pay if it attacks Israel is what’s making them think twice or even five times before they try anything.”

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