A fire-based campaign

In July 2006, Gal Hirsch led his division to war only to find not everyone was on the same page. Here is an excerpt from his new book:

IDF soldiers walk together after leaving Lebanon near the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2006 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF soldiers walk together after leaving Lebanon near the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2006
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Within hours of the abduction, the division quickly transitioned into contingency mode, combat formation and implementation of the defense plan.
During the day, the division changed from battle-day mode in the routine-security operations room to deployment in “centers” – our war mode of operations.
I put in a request to implement NORTHCOM’s contingency plan and mobilize reservists right away, but these requests were not fully approved, and I was allowed to call only up to 30 people at the most!
I demanded to initiate and engage the enemy across the border (the area was already under fire and the residents were in the shelters) – but this too was refused.
I initiated missions and activities that were only partially and gradually approved (in Ghajar, Jabal Blat, and Marwahin). The directive was that a fire campaign was underway, and I was explicitly told there would be no ground maneuver. Throughout the day, I could see the gap in understanding the situation. This gap would unfortunately continue for many days.
I gave the order to prepare the activation of the divisional counterattack plan aimed at capturing areas controlling the northern villages and roads, but authorization was not given until the morning of July 19 – a week later. We are stabilized, we are doing OK, moving on, was the thought that ran through my head.
Avi, the division intel officer, ran up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and hugged me while walking.
“I was very impressed by your conduct today,” he said as we walked through the bunker’s hall. “I just wanted to tell you this.”
“Thank you, Avi. We have a war in front of us – I place my trust in you.” I knew Avi was feeling bad following the abduction that had resulted from an absence of valid intel, and I wanted to support him.
My personal assistant, Tal, had already changed my “light” forward command post – my unprotected jeep – to a wartime secured division commander convoy, just as we had done in training.
Outside there was the pounding of artillery fire, the thunder of shells impacting, and smoke. There was a strong smell, and the heat of a mid-afternoon sun.
And there was war. After darkness fell, I finished briefing Chen Livni’s Brigade 300 forces. I put special emphasis on Maglan, commanded by Eliezer. The approach was business-like, short, and to the point. Eliezer understood this was the division’s prime mission: they were the ones who were to search for the bodies of the soldiers while in pursuit of the abductors.
I still did not know if my belief that this was war would be accepted. I knew there was the chance everything would stop after the Air Force bombing sorties in Lebanon. I could not wait and leave the possibility open that Hezbollah would grab the bodies of the tank crew.
It was a controversial issue, discussed at length in the IDF and in public forums. Was it right to risk soldiers’ lives in order to bring home the dead for burial? Was it right to swap live prisoners for dead soldiers? My opinion was clear. This standard had been set in the IDF. We search even if it’s for a fragment of a soldier, in order to bring him home for burial according to Jewish tradition.
On the way back to the division headquarters, I received updates on the massive attack that the Air Force was about to launch at any moment in the center of Beirut. I understood the implications and what it would do to Hezbollah.
“Get me the regional civil defense officer,” I ordered, and when I had him on the line, I asked him, “Moti, is everyone in the shelters?”
“Verify it. Hezbollah is going to attack the home front.”
In the division’s region, the civilian population was my responsibility. This definition includes all of the isolated villages located right on the border fence.
“Moti, speak to all heads of municipalities. Make sure that they are ready for a long round this time.”
At the entrance to the division’s war room, I stopped for a second, hearing a familiar scary and sickening shrieking sound. I became tense, and then came an enormous explosion – BOOOOOM! Flames, smoke, and a shockwave hurled us inside the command post.
“Mortars!” someone yelled.
Direct impacts shook the division’s command center, and the smell of gunpowder and smoke overwhelmed us. I tried to make it to the communication systems in the command post.
The heavy structure of the bunker repeatedly rattled. The electricity was cut, the radio became silent, the computer screens went blank, thick darkness was all around, and the din of screams assaulted my ears.
“Bring me a megaphone!” “Here.”
“OK, people,” I said in jest to those around me, “this is why we get field pay.”
Alex, the division’s communications officer, came in breathing heavily.
“The generator is out, and the reserve generator too – direct hits.”
“All right,” I said, calming him, “prepare the mobile forward command post to move out. We may move our operations to another location.” It was clear that the division headquarters would be under fire – for it was right there, located front and center on the battlefield.
“Udi, we are sustaining fire,” I updated my commander. “Direct hits, there is some damage, and we might leave this position. I am not sure I can command from here. It is completely targeted.”
Over the sounds of explosions, I listened to Udi’s voice, trying to assess whether NORTHCOM understood that we were at war. They did not!
“In one hour we will lose what energy is left,” Alex informed me. The fans weren’t working anymore and the oxygen was getting thin in the operations room.
“I understand. We’re moving to another position with the mobile forward command post, just like we worked on in training.”
“Where to?”
“We will move to Bravo.” It was far enough away to prepare the division for the morning in relative quiet. I was not sure Hezbollah would already be able to shoot that night at towns deeper in Israel.
“OK, let’s go! Sprint outside bent over, toward the vehicles!”
Excerpted from
Defensive Shield: An Israeli Special Forces Commander on the Frontline of Counterterrorism, published by Gefen.