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Rob W

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Times2

 

Our tank was a death trap

Jonathan Spyer

Our correspondent, an Israeli reservist, drove a tank into Lebanon on the evening of August 9. It was a routine mission, but as his unit got the order to move out, things began to go wrong

 

 

The operation was into one of the areas south of the Litani River as yet untouched by our forces. They postponed it twice. There were fewer jokes than usual, and no one was playing cards. We knew that shortly we were going into the killing zone, and that it was not certain who would be emerging from it. Lebanon was just a few hundred yards ahead. Familiar and utterly alien.

 

I narrowly missed serving in Lebanon in the days of the security zone. And I have spent some unpleasant times in Nablus and Hebron and Gush Etzion over the years. This time, though, as we all knew, it would be of a different order of magnitude.

 

Ariel, like me, was a tank driver from platoon 2. He was watching affairs with a worried furrow to his brow. “We aren’t ready for this,” he said, as we shook hands. I looked at him quizzically, but he declined to elaborate, adding simply: “Not all of us will be coming back.”

 

 

At Metulla, we witnessed strange scenes. The lights of the houses turned off. Most of the residents had long since headed for the south. But by the side of the roadside were a group of Hassidim from the sect of Nahman of Breslau, who had rigged up a makeshift sound system at the furthest point accessible to civilians.

 

They had recorded some songs especially for the campaign. There was one about Hassan Nasrallah which they were blaring out over and over again. The light was fading into twilight as we waited. There were 300 Hezbollah men in El Khiam, they’d told us, who were waiting too.

 

It took a while, down a silent descent, until we were in the first fields of southern Lebanon, heading towards the El Khiam ridge. Itzik said the travellers’ prayer through the intercom as we entered. Darkness and silence all around us.

 

We entered El Khiam in the dead of night, slowly, cautiously and with no resistance. In neighbouring Marjayoun, the objective of another company from our battalion, the situation was a little different. There, the lead tank encountered an RPG 29 team at a distance of around 30 metres. The RPG team had managed to fire a single rocket, causing damage to the turret, but not destroying it, before being killed by a shell launched from the tank.

 

Things began to go wrong shortly before first light. We got the order to move out, back in the direction of Israel, about an hour before the dawn. We were 7km (4½ miles) north of the border, and this would have been ample time. Unfortunately, however, we got word through the radio that the company commander’s tank had developed a problem and couldn’t move.

 

After about half an hour, it began to get light. We were still 6km north of the border.

 

It was broad daylight. We were still about 5km north of the border. The Hezbollah men had seen out the night and now were going to work. Which wouldn’t have mattered if we’d covered the necessary ground in time to beat the dawn. But we hadn’t. There was nothing much we could do except keep going, at an excruciating snail’s pace, and hope.

 

Then there was an almighty crash into the tank we were dragging, and flame was coming out of the engine grille. The crash confused us for a moment, because it sounded similar to the sound that a tank makes when it is firing off a shell.

 

Then, suddenly, I had no brakes left. Tried to brake, couldn’t, nothing left. Then there was a godawful jolt on our own tank, and the engine was dead. Everything was quiet. Peaceful, for a moment. But the internal radio was working, and I heard the order to get out of our dead tank, which had just caught a Kornet missile in the engine, and which was about to turn into a death trap. The engine would go up in flames, and the flames would spread to the turret, and begin setting off ammunition.

 

We sprinted for the ditch and into it. Up to our knees in muddy water, we splashed and sloshed our way along it, through grass and thorns. Behind us, we saw the company commander’s crew also making for the ditch. But one man was on a stretcher, jolting and motionless, and even though I could see only his boots I knew he was dead. Someone shouted: “The company commander’s dead,” and I thought for a moment of that thin youth, in his mid-twenties, who had only recently taken over and who had now been killed.

 

After 50 minutes we heard the rumble of tanks in the distance, and machinegun fire. Once again, the look of everything changed. It meant there was a chance, after all, that we might get out of this. But the tanks were very far off. It would take some minutes before they reached us. I strained everything in my heart willing them to get a move on.

 

There were still explosions everywhere. There was still the dead man, on the stretcher, with his cruel, gaping wound. But at that point, I realised that death, which had seemed to be bringing its huge, empty face very close up to me and the rest of us, was receding back again to its own realm.

 

And there would be the moment when Itzik and I took a trip to have a look at our two tanks, after they finally managed to drag their burnt wrecks back across the border. We checked where the missiles had entered. The missiles that took out the engines of the two tanks entered at precisely the same point. At the engine grille. But in Smoha’s tank, the missile had entered, and then continued inwards, flying over the engine, in the area between the engine and the outer armour. Then it had penetrated the wall of the driver’s compartment, and killed him. In my case, on the other hand, owing to a difference in trajectory of no more than a few centimetres at most, the missile had ploughed into the engine — destroying the tank, and leaving me untouched.

 

 

I took part in two more missions into Lebanon before we were demobilised. The country was full of bitterness and confusion in the days that followed the ceasefire.

 

What is most prevalent now is a feeling that it isn’t over. That the war and its uncertain outcome have failed to resolve any of the underlying factors that led to its outbreak. This is the factor fuelling the urgency of the protests now being organised by reserve soldiers. The anger and disgust felt by many of those who fought in Lebanon and returned does not represent a crisis of Israeli identity or national ideals, but rather a re-affirmation of them. This, however, goes together with a deep sense that the hedonism, cynicism, mediocrity and corruption that prevail among large sections of our leadership are not worthy of the sacrifices made for the country by the frontline soldiers.

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So far today you have admitted to being more bothered by the death of Diana than 3000 innocent civilians in 9/11, and now you appear to be gloating about young men being killed in warfare? :unsure:

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Gloating? No

 

But why should he get three pages of the "Times" to whine on about him coming under fire and a couple of mates being killed when they are in someone else's country in a bloody great tank - and don't tell me they'd gone for a Sunday afternoon drive for a coffee

 

They'd gone to kill people and some of them got killed instead - tough

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Guest alex
Gloating?  No

 

But why should he get three pages of the "Times" to whine on about him coming under fire  and a couple of mates being killed when they are in someone else's country in a bloody great tank - and don't tell me they'd gone for a Sunday afternoon drive  for a coffee

 

They'd gone to kill people and some of them  got killed instead - tough

189878[/snapback]

Are you unable to differentiate between the soldiers on the ground who have no choice about these things and the politicians making the decisions then? Presumably you have no sympathy for British troops in Iraq either in that case.

Edited by alex

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Guest alex
I don't think they should be there  - either the Brits or the Israelis

189976[/snapback]

Neither do I, that's not what I asked though.

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No sympathy - you join the Army and become a tool of politicians

 

If you go to someone else's country then they may try and kill you - that's what it says on the packet after all and that's what you train for yourself - to kill other people

 

so why should we sympathise when the inevitable happens and people get killed?

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No sympathy - you join the Army and become a tool of politicians

 

If you go to someone else's country then they may try and kill you - that's what it says on the packet after all and that's what you train for yourself - to kill other people

 

so why should we sympathise when the inevitable happens and people get killed?

190014[/snapback]

 

They have conscription in the Israeli army. :rolleyes:

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No sympathy - you join the Army and become a tool of politicians

 

If you go to someone else's country then they may try and kill you - that's what it says on the packet after all and that's what you train for yourself - to kill other people

 

so why should we sympathise when the inevitable happens and people get killed?

190014[/snapback]

 

So you've no sympathy with people (often very young people) who make bad decisions?

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No sympathy - you join the Army and become a tool of politicians

 

If you go to someone else's country then they may try and kill you - that's what it says on the packet after all and that's what you train for yourself - to kill other people

 

so why should we sympathise when the inevitable happens and people get killed?

190014[/snapback]

 

So you've no sympathy with people (often very young people) who make bad decisions?

190021[/snapback]

 

If you come from some of the more run down areas of post-industrial America, it's hardly even a choice for may young people. It's either that or prison.

 

And as I say, if you are an Israeli citizen, you have no choice at all.

 

RobW is a mass of contradictions tbh.

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Guest alex
No sympathy - you join the Army and become a tool of politicians

 

If you go to someone else's country then they may try and kill you - that's what it says on the packet after all and that's what you train for yourself - to kill other people

 

so why should we sympathise when the inevitable happens and people get killed?

190014[/snapback]

I think that's a ridiculous and completely unsympathetic argument. In the case of our Armed Forces I would imagine people join up for a variety of reasons* but if they did have to fight they probably hoped it would be in defence of Britain, or at least one of our allies that had been attacked, rather than carry out US Foreign policy. Meanwhile, Israel has compulsory national service don't they?

*There are loads of people who join to get away from abusive home lives, because they have no other job prospects, because they want to learn a trade/skill and the Forces was the best option etc., etc. And fair play to them, it's better than sitting on the dole imo. Some people aren't as lucky as you and I in the choices they have you know.

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If you come from some of the more run down areas of post-industrial America, it's hardly even a choice for may young people. It's either that or prison.

 

And as I say, if you are an Israeli citizen, you have no choice at all.

 

RobW is a mass of contradictions tbh.

190028[/snapback]

 

Aye, it's actually quite a right wing attitude. I've often thought that the difference between Europe and the US* today, is that we give a shit about those around us to some extent, want a safety net, even for the stupid or lazy, because the alternative is too horrible.

 

Rob's attitude is distinctly un-European in this case. :rolleyes:

 

*On a side issue, I'm still a bit shocked by some of the things my recent US guests said to me. Apparently they couldn't understand why we would have any interest in what was going on in Iraq because it was "between the US and Iraq".

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On a serious note though, anyone who joins the British armed forces these days can be under no illusions as to how they can expect to be deployed. This has to be a factor for even the underpriviliged element of the intake. They're on full notice that they will be used, unstintingly, to pursue US foreign policy goals.

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Rob is a liberal conservative - the only one I've "talked" to. Confused, in other words.

 

And how anyone can care more about the death of Diana than those in 9/11 is beyond my comprehension.

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Rob is a liberal conservative - the only one I've "talked" to. Confused, in other words.

 

And how anyone can care more about the death of Diana than those in 9/11 is beyond my comprehension.

190048[/snapback]

 

I think Rob was a WUM before t'internet existed; he's definitely on a wind-up half the time. He got Alex with something yesterday that I definitely thought was just a piss-take, but I can't think what it was now. The problem is, you can't really have a serious conversation with someone like that because as soon as you have a point that defies their argument they just go into blind WUM mode and pretend they never took any of it seriously in the first place.

 

Agreed about the liberal conservative tag, if Rob had grown up under slightly different circumstances, he'd be Leazes.

 

Diana's death is a tragedy, 9/11 a statistic?

Edited by ObaGol

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On a serious note though, anyone who joins the British armed forces these days can be under no illusions as to how they can expect to be deployed. This has to be a factor for even the underpriviliged element of the intake. They're on full notice that they will be used, unstintingly, to pursue US foreign policy goals.

190038[/snapback]

 

 

agreed

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"And as I say, if you are an Israeli citizen, you have no choice at all."

 

that arguement was knocked on the head at Nuremberg in TBH - you always have a choice

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"Diana's death is a tragedy, 9/11 a statistic?"

 

never said that - all I said was that Diana's death had more of an impact on me

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On a serious note though, anyone who joins the British armed forces these days can be under no illusions as to how they can expect to be deployed. This has to be a factor for even the underpriviliged element of the intake. They're on full notice that they will be used, unstintingly, to pursue US foreign policy goals.

190038[/snapback]

 

Am I wrong in assuming that we're talking about the average 18 year old chav? And that they couldn't possibly fathom the consequences of their actions?

 

Sorry if I have the wrong idea of your armed services.

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