"I want to tell those at home – don't be worried. We have the strongest army there is, professionally and morally. We have the best commanders and fighters there are. I end each day amazed by the fighting spirit. I'm empowered by people, by their motivation to come, win, and do the job. If these are his sons, we have to raise our heads and believe that it will be good here. I believe it wholeheartedly, even though I've never worn a kippah."
This is what the commander of the 101st Paratroopers Battalion, Lt. Col. Yoav, told Israel Hayom last night in a conversation that took place on a classified phone from the heart of the Gaza Strip, a few days after he lost a company commander and two fighters in fierce battles.
Identifying the target - and shooting: Paratroopers in encounters with terrorists // IDF Spokesperson
Like many IDF commanders, on October 7, Lt. Col. Yoav was at home in Tel Aviv with his wife, Tamari, in the ninth month of her pregnancy. Suddenly, sirens pierced the air. "An alarm in Tel Aviv is not commonplace. We went down to the shelter, and on the way I managed to hear the number of launches. I got ready and drove south. I picked up the driver, and slowly we began to understand the magnitude of the incident. I bounced the commanders and everyone who could, some with combat equipment and some without equipment. We reached Sderot and continued driving to other communities.
"We fought the terrorists, and we did everything we could that day. A few days after that difficult Shabbat we were on the defense, killing quite a few terrorists who were hiding in all sorts of places. We quickly realized that we were at the most important time of our lives, and that's how we started to roll into the fighting we are in today."
Lt. Col. Yoav's eldest son, Ivri, was born between the defense and the offensive phases. "Even in the alliance I managed to be. We started the fighting the night after the alliance," he says.
Our enemy is cowardly and cruel
The 101st Paratroopers Battalion is part of the forces of the 36th Division, which has been maneuvering in the Gaza Strip for more than three weeks. Regarding the first days of the fighting, the battalion commander says: "When we entered the Gaza Strip at first, we saw mostly a lot of destruction. The air force attacked very hard before the entrance, a lot of fire was activated and significant damage was caused to the enemy."
Since then, Lt. Col. Yoav and his fighters have managed to advance deep into the Gaza Strip and eliminate quite a few terrorists. "Throughout the fighting, we see an enemy that is mainly trying to hide. We find him and try to harm him. You don't kill an enemy trying to fight face to face, but jump from all kinds of places and surprise. Despite his cowardly modus operandi, we manage to hurt him." "The terrorists come mostly alone, try to tail with forces, and don't deal with us face to face. They try to jump from the underground on all kinds of occasions. Our enemy, our enemy, is a coward. Cowardly and cruel. He is also cruel to his own people, hiding behind a civilian population, and doing many vile things. We saw it on October 7, too, and we're here to crush it, to kill those damned terrorists for what they did to our family members."
The citizens of Israel can rest easy
Lt. Col. Yoav especially emphasizes the fighters' spirit, high morale, and belief in the righteousness of the path. "We all grew up, or at least I grew up, on stories from the Yom Kippur War, on all kinds of heroes who fought for the existence of the state. These days I got to see such heroes walking after me and around me. The citizens of Israel can rest assured that these are the people defending our country, and thanks to them we will win."
The 101st Battalion Commander refers among other things to the battalion's fallen soldiers, some of whom were killed before the maneuver began, and three of whom were killed last weekend in fierce battles in the northern Gaza Strip: Sergeant Benjamin Meir Arley, 21, from Beit Shemesh, Staff Sergeant Shahar Friedman, 21, from Jerusalem, and Maj. Jamal Abbas, 23, from Peki'in, a company commander in the battalion.
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Regarding the circumstances of their deaths, he says: "We were fighting in a very crowded and complex area for several hours. During the mission here and our advance, we identified three terrorists. Unfortunately, during the encounter with them, the soldiers were wounded, we quickly evacuated them and dispatched a helicopter, but in the end they were pronounced dead. It was a very complex fighting," said Lt. Col. Yoav, who was right next to them at the moment of the encounter and arrived there within minutes.
How does such an event affect you, the fighters?
"It's not easy for anyone to lose a comrade-in-arms, by chance, the fallen were very close to me, and it's not easy for me either. But it was precisely at this hour that the battalion revealed itself in its greatness and strength. I also told the fighters, I have experienced a significant number of operational events in my life, as a commander in various operations, and I have never seen such combat, such a spirit. Even after the event, the same spirit continued, and it is what pushes people forward. There is enough justification for what we are doing here. And in the last few days, we've gotten a few more good reasons from real heroes that I've been privileged to command. People got to fight alongside them, even in death. They are special people. One of our best sons. Their spirit gives us the push forward. We raise our heads and move forward, as much as possible."
To what extent might a ceasefire in favor of the return of hostages harm the security of the forces?
"Fortunately, in this case, I'm still not at the level that deals with strategy. When it comes, we will know how to do what is necessary to ensure the security of the forces, and to make the adjustments. The security of our forces comes first, and I am sure that in all ways they will know how to respond to this. Just as the army functions well, it will know how to function well in the face of various challenges."
Some argued that the ground maneuver would not work well, that the IDF was not prepared.
"I didn't think the IDF wasn't ready, I didn't think there was a problem with maneuvering. We have the best commanders and fighters there are, they know what to do. We will know how to provide the solution to any challenge that comes, and I say this with full confidence and pride. The cooperation with intelligence and the air force is excellent. We receive a lot of information, a lot of information is also collected from prisoners, and information we receive during combat. The Air Force is with us everywhere, they come to every operational event and make every effort to assist. The whole army is together, as one fist and it's not a cliché."
Summing up his remarks, the commander of the 101st Battalion quotes the phrase associated with his battalion: "I will pursue my enemies and achieve them, and I will not return until they are gone." "If we have already gathered here, let's return home in a situation where we want to return, to a state of security, of security in the State of Israel. As a battalion commander, I want civilians to feel safe to walk around everywhere without fear for their lives, or fear for what is happening around them. We have to come out on top even if it takes time, we don't think when it will end."
In the meantime, are we winning?
"We are on the way to victory, advancing and bringing more achievements. The achievement is aggregate. Everyone in his sector is doing his utmost to bring more achievements, to hit more terrorists."
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