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Photo: Israel Defense Forces

Born to fight

A special forces commander of the Israel Defense Army anonymously talked to Jewishnews.com.ua about the nature of service in Israel

About myself

I was born in Ukraine in 1990. At the age of four my parents took me to Israel. From the 10th year I studied at the air force military school, then joined an elite special division of the Israel Defense Army. I was seriously injured on two occasions. After I finished service I returned to ordinary life, I study and work, but several times a year I am called up to the reserve service – “Shirut Milium Pail”


This reserve mainly consists of combat soldiers which the army calls up for two main purposes;

1. Training milium. The planned call-up of soldiers for additional training takes place once or twice a year to refresh existing knowledge and endurance, and inform them about innovations and new methods in the sphere in which they served. Universities and employees regard this with great respect and understanding and do everything to ensure that after milium people can “acclimatize” and return to ordinary life.
2. Combat milium. A sudden call-up in case of war, military operations or a natural disaster, when there is a need for certain specialists from the reserve, or when then are not enough conscripted soldiers in a specific squadron or unit.

On serving in the special forces

There are four main reasons that soldiers join combat units, particularly the special forces:

1) Family tradition
2) Patriotism and the wish to defend their own people
3) Relatively profitable work
4) The “legal” opportunity to kill

In Israel people mainly join for the first two reasons.

On brotherly love

Personally I not only wanted to feel that I was defending my home and people who brought me up – I wanted to feel the great brotherly love described in the Torah, which arises when you cover your fellow soldier’s back, and he covers yours.

“I feel pain for you, my brother Jonathan, you were very dear to me; your love for me was stronger than woman’s love” (David’s lament for Jonathan, “Kinat David”, the Book of Samuel 2:1).

The commander

In the fourth year of compulsory service (in special divisions training is one year longer than in all other types of troops), I was appointed group commander.

When you take on responsibility for a squadron, you not only have to see the faces of your family before you, but everyone else who is waiting at home for your soldiers. If you don’t see them, you don’t have the right to take people into battle.

On the wall in the office of the head of the General Headquarters, it is written in large gold letters: “Every Jewish mother should know that she has given her son’s fate into the hands of worthy commanders.”

Before I go on each mission, over and over again I read the personal cases of everyone I am taking with me today, and I pay special attention to the photographs. I look at the parents, wives and children (for those that have them). I try to remember them very well, so I can see these people in the hours when the fate of their husbands, fathers or sons will be in my hands…

The hardest thing for a group commander is the choice that you constantly have to make. I must separate people: some of them must stay to cover and contain the main forces of the enemy, and some must be sent on ahead, to carry out the main mission. The latter is more dangerous. But who should I take?

On the one hand, I want to take people for the more risky work who do not yet have families and children. But the ones who are older, with families, usually have more experience in battle, and so they have more chance of coping with the mission. Often I only have a few seconds to make these decisions. But the mission must be carried out, and the indecisiveness of the commander may lead to complete failure, and even greater risk for the whole group…

On losses

I have lost fellow soldiers, two of them died in my arms. One of them had wife and a young son. When you look into pure eyes in which the spirit of life is fading every second, you feel terribly helpless. You think about how to make use of these last minutes. What should I ask him? Or perhaps I should say something important to him?

These thoughts keep going around your head, and with every second you feel increasingly angry at yourself for the “lost seconds”, a feeling which will never leave you afterwards.

Suddenly you start to look differently at every second that life has given you.

But most of all I am tormented by the thought of his widow and son who has lost his father. I dream that this son asks his mother: “Where’s my Dad?” But she shouldn’t answer this question. I should. I was the one who did not bring him back. But she will probably have to answer. This is the hardest thing of all.

On the civilian population from the other side

Pain and suffering has no nationality or skin color. When you see a girl whose arm or leg have been torn off, you don’t think about who she is, but how to help her.

You need to take into account possible losses from the other side, and try not to allow them to happen. Israeli military ethics requires a minimum of force to be used to achieve goals. Many times, we have cancelled missions at the last moment because of the risk that it would lead to a large number of civilian losses of the opponent.

A soldier who goes into battle under your command must not come back whole physically, but also psychologically. So that he can return to his family. Knowing that you have carried out the mission and done the utmost to avoid unnecessary victims.

To preserve the lives of the civilian population in areas where military operations are carried out, the Israeli army has done more than any other army in international military history. In the last operation in the Gaza strip in summer, over 2 million leaflets were dropped warning citizens to leave their homes because bombing would soon begin nearby. Over 100,000 telephone calls were made with the same goal. And we sent food and medicine to the same regions from which thousands of missiles were fired at Israel.

The face of the homeland

After the lengthy physical and psychological training that special forces divisions undergo (in my case it lasted 22 months) and after the first combat mission, you may get the feeling that you have schizophrenia.

To spend all night with the battle squadron hundreds or thousands of kilometers from your native land, to see and do things that are not even shown in violent Hollywood action films, using technology which is still considered to be something out of science fiction, and in the morning to go back, to go home by bus, to sit next to people who just got up, to see the usual cars driving by, mothers with strollers on the streets…

Suddenly this calm starts to seem completely unnatural, not obligatory, not a given.

After a few months you get used to it. And then the people in the bus, the traffic, the mothers and children turn into the “face” of the people which you see before you during operations.

On the secrets and rewards of the special forces

The main difference of soldiers from the special forces is secrecy.

The media usually reports the actions of combat regiments and divisions, and they only fight during wartime. Special forces go on combat missions outside the country in “peacetime” no less frequently, and sometimes more often, than during war – in order to prevent it.

Their faces are not shown, and when they receive medals they are not named. They don’t hear people say “thank you” on the street. And when a member of the special forces is killed, this is not reported publicly, and only their name is printed on the back page of the newspaper among the ordinary obituaries.

Serving in the special forces is something you do not boast about out loud. You can’t talk about it with anyone apart from your fellow soldiers and your wife (and she should only know the basics). I have a girlfriend called Einat, whose love supports me and protects me without superfluous words.

After some time in this service, you realize that the reward is the “faces” that you see on trips home. They continue their lives in joy, warmth and hope. This is the most important thing.