Friday, July 11, 2008

The D-day

20th November, 2005

My team arrived to the based after a short vacation at home. Not an hour later we were called to the cannons due to high alert. Lior, our new battery commander was excited to fire his first shells as a commander. The team on the other hand preferred it didn't happen. There's too much work after firing cannons, way too much.. We assured him that nothing would happen, we've been on high alert for months and nothing really happens.

21st November, 2005

2.55 P.M. - We were sitting in the club, watching TV when suddenly the alarm went off!

"Is it a drill?"
Tomer: "I'm telling you guys, it's not a drill! It's for real this time!!"

Some of the soldiers heard bangs a few minutes before the alarm. Then they saw smoke rising in different parts of the Hula valley.

We grabbed our weapons and sprinted towards the cannons. I ran as fast as I could, the sound of the alarm pumping up the adrenalin in my blood. It was the time to do our best, to do what were trained for.

I entered the howitzer, shortly afterwards the rest of the team arrived as well. Navigators, commanders and drivers should be the first to arrive.

Climbing up and looking outside the hatch, I could see black smoke rising from Rajar. Dozens of lights flashed in Rajar amidst the clouds that partially covered the village.

At first, we thought it was Hezbollah's positions, but then we realized it was Israeli territory which was under constant heavy fire.

"What is going on?! These sons of a bi$#@es! Why aren't we firing back?!"

Another pillar of smoke could be seen rising from the lower part of the Dov mountain, near an Israeli base.

Several times we could see something that resembled fireworks, a few dozen flashes in one place, like tiny bombs exploding one after another.

Meanwhile, all the citizens of nearby towns were asked to get down to bomb shelters. An estimate of 100,000 citizens went down to safety.

"Nothing like that has ever happened since the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000!"

A few of our soldiers were on their way back with supplies from another base. A Katyusha rocket hit the asphalt only a short distance behind them. Luckily, they weren't hurt. They couldn't believe it - Another second and they would've been killed!

Armed gunmen from Hezbollah entered the Israeli part of Rajar, driving bikes and four wheelers. A squad of 4 close in on an Israeli pillbox located on the border between the 2 countries. With their primary objective of kidnapping Israeli soldiers, dead or alive, they opened fire on the pillbox, but to their astonishment - the pillbox was unmanned. They continued their assault as they moved further south towards the only road leading from Rajar to Israel. An Israeli roadblock was ahead. They opened heavy fire, but the roadblock was deserted as well.

An Israeli squad from the paratroopers division was hiding in a building located opposite the roadblock. An Israeli sharpshooter by the name of Moskovic, fired at Hezbollah's gunmen and took them down one by one with the help of his assistant who helped him spot the targets. Within 12 seconds, all 4 Hezbollah gunmen were dead before they could even spot their shooter.

As a result, Hezbollah failed to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Papers were calling Moskovic a hero. He later received a badge of courage and a week-long vacation.

Back to our artillery base...

All of our equipment was soaked with water. The hatches were apparently left open the night before and the pouring rain's done its work. Dry or soaking wet, it didn't matter to us - In just a few minutes after the attack, we were authorized to fire back!

Not much could be seen beyond the mist that covered the whole valley, but the sound of landing rockets could still be heard.

The press have arrived and settled up on a hill just above our base to capture all the action on camera.

We were ordered to fire 'Scarf' shells. A relatively new type of shells that's never been used by IDF, except in training. These are the only shells fired from our howitzers that leave a white tail of smoke and can be seen in the sky from a distance.

One of the fresh soldiers from in the other team has accidentally dropped the 40kg shell on his foot. An ambulance arrived and evacuated him.

Over 200 shells have been fired from our howitzers and still counting...

When we came back to the base yesterday, 2 teams were released home. Today, however, they were called back to the base and had to arrive next morning.

The day turned into night, the fighting resumed. Another battery from a different battalion had settled nearby and joined us in shelling Hezbollah targets.

Now the mist has come to visit us. We were unable to see beyond 10 feet, but that didn't limit our capabilities. We kept receiving firing coordinates and fired as fast and accurate as we could.

The radio was always active. Commanders received firing authorizations and reported whenever the howitzer was locked-on and ready to fire.

A different kind of message was then heard on the radio. "2A(our battery) from 1B (our battalion's center of operations), one is on its way to you"

Some of our soldiers looked at each other with confusion on their faces: "What? One what?"
The answer followed in the form of explosion not too far from our base.

Our battery commander ran out and shouted: "Get all the soldiers off the ramps!" Curious soldiers wanted to see the whereabouts of that explosion.

"I saw it, it landed a few hundred feet away from us. I saw the sparkles." said Andrew, a new commander of 1A. His team is located next to ours.

"If it hits the cannon then we're doomed. This shit can't protect us even from a 7.62 bullet of Kalashnikov, A shell would undoubtedly pierce it."

"Incoming!" Boom! This time I saw it. There was light and a slightly loud noise. The electricity went down.

"Everybody get inside the vehicles. Get ready to move. Cease fire. I repeat - Get ready to move. Cease fire!" Our battery commander wanted us to drive our howitzers to secondary positions.

For the first time, we really feared for our lives. Hezbollah were targeting our base and it could be a matter of time before they hit the target. I tried to calm my teammates down: "Don't worry. What are the odds of a direct hit on our howitzer?

Despite the artillery fire on our positions, ALPHA drivers had to run down to the bunker where their vehicles parked. ALPHA are special vehicles for carrying a large supply of shells and compulsion explosives.

Another Katyusha landed nearby. This time it landed next to our kitchen and dining room, next to the fence bordering the base.

Roey, a soldier from team 1B could no longer take it. He ran away to men's room and hid there until it was all over.

Mark is a big, 40 year old guy from the battalion who works in the army as a mechanic, repairing vehicles. Nobody ever messes with the guy and he's very respected. He was at our base on duty during the shelling. When they started firing on us, he got into shock. He just stood there outside, unable to react. Medics were called in and evacuated him.

Daniel: "I need the curtain. Where is it?" (A curtain is a night vision periscope for night driving)
"Check below the benches." "It isn't there." We searched the whole howitzer, unable to find it.

Despair and panic were growing stronger with every passing minute. Hezbollah kept firing non-stop.

We received a report that a Hezbollah gunman was sighted approaching an Israeli base on mount Dov. He opened fire on the soldiers, but was gunned down a moment later. There were possibly other gunmen with him who've managed to flee.

About 10 minutes later we arrived to our secondary positions, leaving vital equipment at the base without which, we weren't authorized to fire. But by the time we arrived to our secondary positions, Hezbollah stopped firing on Israel.

Luckily, our kit bags were in the ALPHAs. They contained sleeping bags and warm military clothes. We've spent the night quietly inside the cannons, despite the rain that managed to soak some of the interior parts of the howitzer, where we were lying down.

That night, the first snow covered the Syrian part of mount Hermon.

Shivering from cold weather, we woke up early on the following day. I could barely recall my night shift, listening to the radio ready to alert the battery if anything happens.

We were given combat meals for breakfast. Half an hour later, a few cameramen arrived to our positions. They were AFP, Reuters and Ha-Aretz, according to what they've told us.

Rotem joked with them: "We've done a good job here, so show us on TV would you?"

We haven't been shown on the news. What happened in Rajar was much more interesting and important. The whole event circled around their planned assault in Rajar.

An hour later we were back at the base. It looked intact. Everything gradually went back to normal again.

Team 2C howitzer with Eyal standing outside were on 2nd page of Yediot Aharonot, the most selling Israeli newspaper. The photo was obviously edited on Photoshop, they copy-pasted some of the shells outside, but the end result was a spectacular photo.

Our battery commander congratulated us for our good work, said we fired 415 shells (more than on any event with Hezbollah in a decade) and killed 5 gunmen along with another battery.

Most guys hurrayed when they heard that. Killing Hezbollah gunmen sounds like quite an achievement. I wasn't happy to hear those news though.

Ever since the moment we were first informed that we'd be serving a few months at the northern border and facing Hezbollah, I wished that we won't have to fire on Lebanon, that there'll be no casualties. When using Artillery, you never know what the results might be. It's not 100% accurate and neither are the coordinations that we're being given. I hope that no one was killed by shells fired from my team's howitzer, but I'll never know.

What about those 5 who were killed? Were they filled with extreme hatred towards Israel? Were they just doing their job for money to support their families? Either way they knew they were risking their lives... but wait, we were risking our lives too. They may think that they risk their lives for their country and we, Israeli soldiers, think we risk our lives for ours. In that case, who's wrong and who's right? Who deserves to live and whose death is justified?

I think most of us are good people, seeking justice, often blind to see the other side of the coin. Some of us blindly follow ideas that involve hatred or racism, others join "anti" movements in which some people "hate" haters or express sympathy towards the haters on the other side.

While we have different views, we all want the same thing - peace, harmony, justice. Obviously there is a dispute in defining justice in the middle east. Maybe the first thing that needs to be taught in schools throughout the world is that conflicts shall never be solved with violence, but strictly with diplomacy. It is sufficient for a war to break out if one of the sides thinks otherwise. In that case, don't let students who haven't learned that lesson ever become world leaders, or worse - dictators.

* * * * *

Post-firing works continued for a week. All the artillery waste had to be removed and sorted. It was a long, never ending work that makes you wish not to fire the howitzers ever again. Huge piles of different kinds of boxes, cylinders, plastic bags and unused explosives.

Hezbollah are expected to launch another attack, following their yesterday's failure to kill or kidnap soldiers. It will probably take them months of planning, as usual. By that time, we'll probably be replaced by a different battery.

The Lebanese media has reported Hezbollah accusing Israel of launching an attack on Lebanon and forcing Hezbollah to take countermeasures to defend south Lebanon. Hezbollah own a TV channel called Al Manar. Obviously they would never admit defeat. Instead, they'd lie to the Lebanese people and make up false stories. They've filmed their attack on Rajar and on a paratroopers base in Hula valley near Rajar (they hit an empty Merkava tank with a rocket there). It's clear that the attack has been planned by Hezbollah for months.

Hezbollah won't be satisfied until they successfully abduct/kill Israelis.

A few days later, an Israeli citizen was carried away by the wind straight to Lebanon after he glided off the Manra cliff (a resort near Kiryat-Shmona and the Lebanese border). When Hezbollah gunmen spotted him, they ran towards him and opened fire. Israeli citizens who've witnessed the incident have called up IDF and opened the border gate to allow him to come back to Israel. Soldiers arrived to the scene and covered his retreat. Fortunately, he sustained no injuries and returned safely to Israel. He thanked IDF for saving his life. We too were called up to provide artillery support in case needed. A few hours passed until everything cooled down.

3 comments:

Chad said...

Hi Israeli-Diary,
A man whose grandfather was a soldier in World War I has been posting his grandfather's letters from the war front as a blog. As the letters are still being posted chronologically, we don't know yet whether "Harry" survives the war or not. Kind of like how on your blog we haven't known the outcome for you and Angel. If you're interested the blog is at: http://wwar1.blogspot.com

Beachdiary said...

Hey IsraSol, I see you have stopped blogging?
Why?
Btw: it's me, Tsedek ;-)
(I closed my blog and started into a new direction).

IsraeliDiary said...

Cool, thanks Chad! I'll definitely check it out. :)

Hey Tsedek! Sorry, I've been busy these last few months. A lot of changes going on.

Yeah, I noticed a few months ago that your blog was closed down. It's good to hear from you again! ;)