My army service is coming to an end and even though I still don’t know when my hofshash (mandatory vacation before I finish my service) will start, I know this will be my final arrest as an active duty soldier.
The prep for the arrest has become second nature to us, a lot like gathering family for dinner. The only odd thing was the number of grenades we took with us. We filled my vest to capacity with grenades, and then put some more in the pockets of my pants!
I told my commander “I think I have too many grenades, they are even in my pockets.”
My commander responded with a hilarious statement of I feel your pain:
“Nothing to do about it, I had to put some in my pocket too…”
When the time came, we packed ourselves into vehicles and got out of them several kilometers from our target. From there, we were to walk out of sight and in operational silence.
We began the trek from a checkpoint separating Israel and the territory. Next to the checkpoint is an access road leading to the Arab towns, one of which we would be visiting and several of which we would actually be passing through on the way there.
This access road is closed by a gate.
The military police were manning the checkpoint, and they opened the gate for us so we could cross and begin our trek into the Arab towns.
Periodically I would check my pockets with my hands to make sure the grenade was still there, and that everything was ok.
Of course, all our movements were in silence and in pitch blackness. We walked on the road for only a few minutes until we reached a more wooded area. From there, we stuck to the unseen areas of life. Grassy areas, low areas below roads, wooded areas to the sides of streets, we very rarely made use of places where people would normally walk or cars would normally drive.
Even at this late hour.
After a few minutes we could hear some Arabs standing around on a road that leads to nowhere. They could be a small group of friends hanging out in a desolate area. They could also be look outs for terrorist groups that want to know when soldiers are coming, a kind of warning system for our possible targets to flee or hide.
We also came to an area where we would have to cross a street at the end of the wooded area we used for cover. We practiced for precisely this kind of maneuver, as we know there are a few places like this on our route to the target. Soldiers took their positions in the various directions, and we began crossing.
As I finished crossing the street and found myself in some long grass, a car was coming. Its headlights were our enemy, we do not want to be seen. So we all crouched under the long grass while the car, surrounded by a blind spot called darkness, went passed us without knowing it.
We moved passed the above mentioned sentries without being noticed. Eventually we came to our first small town that we would only pass from its outskirts. All the lights of the houses are off. Not a creature was stirring, except for us.
We eventually arrived at the second town we would have to pass, but this was more like a city. It was more developed, much more urban. It had lots of streets, stores, cars driving once in a while, and apartment buildings.
As we descended into the city from hill above, we entered a long but narrow ditch under a main road of the city. We continued along it for as long as it would take us, I could see once in a very long while a lone person here or there, walking on the street and without a clue as to our presence just tens of meters away.
Eventually we came to a large house, and moved along its side to a wooded area on the other side of it. As we moved I could hear a loud crackling noise, very ugly to my ears. I wanted to kill this noise. Then I heard it again. Finally I saw, as it was my turn to cross from the right side to the left side of the house, the sound was some plastic garbage on the dirt that some people stepped on without realizing it was there.
It was in a very narrow spot, and covered by the grass and the dirt, I leaned down and tossed it out of the way.
We continued onward.
Eventually we found ourselves needing to cross another main road, and this one had at least one car pass much more frequently. The first group of soldiers sprinted across the street at the first sign of an all clear once no sound or lights from any approaching vehicle reached us.
We continued this way until all of us were across, to find that on the other side we needed to finish the maneuver with quickly descending into another hidden area. We started off below the road, and found that this path went up above everything on a hill.
Our route took us down again, but there was no easy way down from where we were. Below us, was a wooded area that was again below the streets. Between it and us was absolutely nothing, other than at least 15 feet of air.
The edge of our hill was paved, with a thicket of bushes on its left side. On its right side, nothing but air. The bushes were taller than I am. The paved edge was narrow, not much wider than two of my feet together.
Our entire operational line of solders had to perform a circus like balancing act on the paved edge of a hill, with a thicket of bushes to our left side. We walked along that until we reached some very large rocks sitting on top of each other, which we used to climb down.
It should be understood that we were not travelling light. Other than our weapons and combat vests filled with heavy bullet proof material, some of us had large bags on our backs with even heavier equipment for use during the mission.
In fact, the heaviest bag was carried until this point by one of our shortest soldiers. This must have been quite a challenge for him, considering his small frame and the weight he had to deal with on his body.
And now we had a kind of circus feat to perform. But like anything else in the army, we performed it. It reminded me of something the American Green Berets did with ladders to cross from roof top to roof top in Iraq. But this was a lot narrower than that.
Once we all climbed down to the bottom, I offered to take the bag from him. He rejected the offer, but when we learned we had actually missed the target’s house and had to backtrack, he came back and gave it to me.
I was hoping we wouldn’t have to climb back up those rocks, when instead we simply walked back in the direction we came from below the point where we walked high up above the roads. And we saw there a gentle hill that could easily have taken us down or up to where we began before the circus performance.
But that didn’t interest us anymore. Instead, we would cross another big road to the wooded area on the other side. It was a large four lane highway, and when it came to be the turn of the soldier in front of me, he took off running. Then I saw him stop in shock like a deer in headlights as a vehicle began to approach and its light could be seen turning a not so far away corner.
If there is anything I learned from operation Yonaton, its never stop while sprinting through an exposed area. The second I saw him stop, I knew exactly what had to be done immediately.
So, I took off running and within moments had reached and overtook this soldier, as I passed him I shouted to him “DON’T STOP, MOVE”.
And with that, he and I reached the other side before the vehicle was even close to seeing us.
We moved through the wooded area, until we came to a drainage tunnel under a street above us. We crawled in, one by one, into the tunnel whose entrance was probably just four feet by four feet. The bag on my back made this a very difficult 30 meter crawl. The ceiling of the tunnel was obviously very low, the bag just resting on my back was being dragged along it.
We finally made it to the other side of the tunnel and exited it, to walk relatively easily along the wooded areas and ditches backtracking the way we came, until we reached the target’s house. I could swear its next to the same large house I mentioned above where the plastic garbage almost ruined our stealth mode movements.
We each took up our positions, flanking the house and making sure the Hamas officer inside would not be able to flee through some unseen window or door.
He didn’t, and he couldn’t. Our stealth paid off, as we were everywhere and no one knew we were in the vicinity from the beginning.
As the Hamasnik was taken into a vehicle that arrived on the scene to pick him up and quickly take him out, his father, mother, and two brothers, stood on the balcony overlooking the scene.
It was the usual looks on their faces, looks I still can’t understand. His brothers looked angry, and worried for him. His father looked concerned more than anything else, and his mother simply looked very upset and shocked.
Perhaps they didn’t know his activities, perhaps they did and justified those activities. But why be surprised when we come to take them away for their acts or their intended acts?
Sometimes I think they act this way to keep up an act. Maybe subconsciously they think “this is how I’m supposed to feel , so I’ll feel this way.”
For us soldiers, we would walk back all the way to base. It was more relaxed, as we were moving away from the inhabited areas until we reached the perimeter fence protecting a Jewish town near our base, where the town’s security guard opened a gate for us. From there, some of us were lucky enough to get a ride back to base, the rest walked the last leg to base.
I arrived back on base, and finally took the grenades out of my pockets. I showered, and then we ate, were debriefed, and had a little sleep. Just a little, because in a few hours light would shine again and it would be Nakba Day. The Arabic term for “tragedy day”, the day Israel declared its Independence. A day for rioting.
A day for counter terror operators of the Kfir Brigade.