28 July 2006

The Heroes of Golani Brigade's Battalion 51

IDF soldiers comfort each other after returning from combat in southern Lebanon on Monday. (AP)

The famous Golani Brigade's Battalion 51 lost eight soldiers and suffered over 20 wounded on Wednesday in the battle for Bint Jbail in southern Lebanon. Most recently, the Golani Brigade were among the last to leave Gaza before the disengagement plan was implemented last year and after what are widely characterized as "extraordinary accomplishments", including the killing of dozens of terrorists.

They've also fought in Lebanon before.

Twelve years after losing nine fighters in Lebanon, Battalion 51 returns to field and loses eight more fighters Wednesday. Senior officer promises, 'after soldiers cry, they will take weapons and return to battle'.

One of the medevac helicopter pilots describes the scene he encountered upon arriving near Bint Jbail this way:

"This was definitely one of the most dramatic operations," he recounted during a conversation with Ynet.

"When I went in, the place looked like a battlefield you see in the movies. A lot of smoke, burned houses, cars upside down. At that moment I ignored everything and concentrated on my mission," Col S. said.

The battle at Bint Jbail from the perspective of one of Battalion 51's commanders:

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.

Just 2 miles from the border and overlooking northern Israel, Bint Jbail has a symbolic as well as military significance for the Hezbollah terrorists. It has the largest Shiite community in the border area, and the day after Israel ended its occupation in 2000, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah immediately entered Bint Jbail for his first celebration rally.

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.
( ... )
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.
( ... )
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.

The eight soldiers of Golani's Battalion 51 killed in Bint Jbail were named as:
Major Roi Klein, 31, from Eli
Corporal Ohad Klausner, 20, from Beit Horon
Corporal Assaf Namer, 26, from Kiryat Ata
Corporal Shimon Agada, 20, from Kiryat Gat
Sergeant Shimon Dahan, 20, from Ashdod
Sergeant Alex Schwartzman, 23, from Acre
Sergeant Idan Cohen, 21, from Jaffa
First Lieutenant Amihai Merhavia, 24, from Eli

Rest in Peace, Warriors.

Update: Blackfive has the briefing given by Captain Uri Lavie, a company commander in the Golani Brigade to his soldiers before crossing the border to engage Hezbollah the following day.

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