I’m really not a big military fan. The last place I lived, I had F16s from the local army base, gunfighter helicopters and I don’t know what else regularly flying overhead. As we were in the middle of three major motorways, I also saw a ton of tanks, Humvees and I don’t know what else regularly being transported up and down the country, depending on whether the rockets were coming from Hizballa up North, or Hamas down South.
While all my male relatives were well happy about all the military equipment whizzing all over the place, I was much less impressed by it all. So it’s weird that I happened to pick up a book called ‘Defensive Shield’ by Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, who was basically in charge of the ground force operations in the Lebanon II war, fought in the Summer of 2006.
That was my first Summer in the country, and we spent it sheltering refugees from the North in our basement.
Lebanon II made a big mess of the North of Israel, disrupted hundreds of thousands of people, and was generally acclaimed a huge, enormous military flop. All I really remember from that time, apart from the guests in my basement, was the ridiculous boasting of the Defense Secretary Amir Peretz that ‘Hizballa would never forget the name Amir Peretz’ - I know, who is he, right?
After that war, Peretz, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and PM Ehud Olmert all kind of slunk away into the shadows.
The other thing I remember about that war is that Roi Klein, a religious father of small children from the Shomron died throwing himself on a grenade, to save his comrades. I felt gutted about that for months. Maybe even years. Maybe even now, still.
When I picked up the book, I thought it was just the biography of a retired IDF soldier who did some very brave missions. And it is that. But it’s also an account of what was actually going on at the front lines, and within the IDF, during Lebanon II, and when I got to that part of the book, I actually really started to sit up and take notice.
To cut a very long story short. Hirsch had been pressing his superiors in the government and the army to put more investment in securing the Lebanese border for many long months before the murderous kidnapping attack on the IDF Humvee occurred, which lit the fuse for the second Lebanon war.
He was ignored. There was a lot of politics going on within the IDF, and also a lot of really bad characters leading the Israeli government that time, who were completely blind to the reality on the ground and were still talking a big game about ‘giving back’ the West Bank to the Arabs for ‘peace’, seeing as that had worked so darned well in Gaza, and pulling out of South Lebanon also lead to peace in our time. Not.
The last thing that bunch of charlatans wanted was a war to deal with, so they hamstrung the IDF forces, including Gal Hirsch, for weeks. When they finally got the greenlight to do what needed to be done in Lebanon, they were given a ridiculously short amount of time to do it, and a whole bunch of ‘be careful’ warnings, as the Palestinians had just pulled off the ‘Kana’ PR stunt and Israel was being ripped apart in the international press (who studiously ignored the hundreds of rockets being fired at Israel’s Northern cities by the Iranian-backed Hizballa terrorists in Southern Lebanon).
The war stuff was interesting, but what was really interesting was what happened after the war, when the media, IDF echelons and weak Government basically went after Hirsch as the scapegoat for the whole thing.
Whatever else you could say, it was clear from the book that Hirsch was a good soldier, and someone who had laid his life on the line on many occasions to defend the Jewish people. He’s not a religious man, but Hirsch’s heart is definitely in the right place. Which is a lot more than you can say for the people in the leftist Israel media, and the self-serving ‘politicians’ in the IDF and Israeli government who went after him and publicly destroyed his reputation after the dust of Lebanon II had settled.
Hirsch ended up leaving the army to go into business - and the IDF will sorely miss people like him. He wrote the book to set the record straight about what had really happened, and to also lift the cover on the corruption, nepotism and ‘politics’ that are being played at the highest levels of the IDF.
Hirsch explained that the ‘talkers’ in the IDF are in so many senior positions in the IDF now, that many of the ‘doers’ - the salt-of-the-earth type soldiers that are really the IDF’s main backbone - are getting disillusioned and leaving in droves. In that respect, Hirsch’s story doesn’t bode well for the IDF.
Perhaps the most important thing I took from the book is that Roi Klein, ztl, didn’t die in vain. Until Hirsch pointed it out in his book, I hadn’t realized that militarily, Lebanon II was actually a huge success. Ten years’ on, we’ve had barely a single rocket fired at us from the North.
As a religious Jew, I know that God is really protecting this country, not the IDF. But it’s good to read a book like Defensive Shield, and to pause to appreciate the enormous self-sacrifice that many Jews are still making to ‘do their bit’ for their fellow Israelis. Not for the first time, it makes me really happy that I live here, and I’m a part of it, in whatever small way that might be.
Rivka Levy's Books: