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Under Fire - Commander's Notes from the Battlefield

 Under Fire is Lieutenant colonel (Res.) Yoni Chetboun’s first book. Chetboun is a former member of Knesset (MK) and a former member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He was honored with a medal from the Chief of the General staff (IDF) for his service in the army. Yedioth Books, the largest publisher in Israel, published Under Fire in 2016 on the occasion of the ten year anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.

The author served as an officer and commander in one of the most turbulent decades in Israel’s history. The book tells the story of Israel's struggle against Islamic and Lebanese terror from 1998-2008. It offers the unique perspective of an officer and combatant in the Judea and Samaria, Gaza and Lebanon. The book is both sensitive and incisive in its description of those violent times. It argues that even with significant technological advancements, there is no substitute for the bravery and courage of the soldiers on the front. “Under Fire” is a testimony to the determination of the elite units and infantry battalions of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in the face of terror. “This is the way,” says Chetboun, “and this is how it should be. This is the role of the army - the soldiers are on the front so that citizens can live peacefully at home."

Structure of the Book:

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to a significant battle that occurred during his impressive military service. The stories convey the emotions of battle, and provide profound insights into the soul of a soldier. They argue for the relevancy of modern day Zionism and for the belief that terrorism can be defeated.

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Soon after his wedding, Chetboun returned to his position as squad Commander in the Egoz Elite Unit during Operation Defensive Shield

Shield, where Yoni Chetboun served as a commander in Egoz (an IDF commando unit specialized in combating guerrilla warfare), he married Ma`ayan, the woman of his dreams. Israel was facing an unstable situation and increased attacks. “I came to the engagement party fifteen minutes late,” Yoni says. “It was after a successful arrest operation in Sebastia, Samaria region. I arrived sweaty, my uniform stunk and I still had camouflage paint smeared on my face. I was somewhat embarrassed, but mostly happy ... For a combat commander at the time, when operations to arrest terrorists who are planning attacks for the next day are taking place every night, a wedding party is almost considered a privilege ... Ma`ayan and I ... We did not expect that she would spend Passover alone in our new home, while I would spend it in heart of Ramallah, four meters from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat’s office." The author writes at length about the tension faced by all combatants and commanders in Israel, when the desire to settle down and build a family clashes with the need to safeguard the State of Israel. In 2002, on the eve of Operation Defensive That Passover, after a murderous, bloody attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Gen. Shaul Mofaz, launched Operation Defensive Shield. The operation aimed at bringing peace to the country through the eradication of terrorist infrastructure and gaining operational flexibility for the IDF in Judea and Samaria. “The morning of Passover 2002,” Chetboun writes, “was the first time that I left Ma`ayan as a married man. Looking back, we did not really realize the meaning of this separation. Later, when we were blessed with children, the separations became more difficult. I believe that married couples have a special connection that allows them to overcome this difficulty.”

 

 At one point during the operation, Chetboun’s squad was charged with assisting the Golani brigade in putting pressure on Yassir Aafat’s office in Ramallah. During the prolonged operation, Yoni did not seen his wife, only receiving a brief 24 hour “vacation” on Independence Day to reunite with her.

The tension between his individual desires and his collective responsibility has accompanied him from that operation until today as he serves as a public figure and a battalion commander in the reserves. The same tension has accompanied many IDF officers and commanders over the years, at times of war and peace, since Israel is frequently on the verge of terror and conflict. Yoni writes: “The quick transitions from civilian life to the battlefield are an integral part of the life of a soldier in the people’s army - the Israel Defense Forces. As much as those transitions are irrational and dissonant, it’s the way it should be. This is the role of the army. Soldiers at the front, citizens at home.

Roi Klein’s Less-Known Heroic Act

Major Roi Klein accompanied Yoni almost from his first day in the Egoz Unit and the Golani Brigade. Klein was killed in Bint Jbeil during the Second Lebanon War after bravely falling on a grenade thrown towards the forces under his command saving the lives of his subordinates. As he did so he cried out with the Shema prayer. The known story of the famous event, for which Klein posthumously received a medal at the end of the war, ends here. Chetboun, who was a commander in the same bloody battle, introduces the readers to another aspect of his revered commander and his best friend: “Itamar Katz realizes that Klein is still alive, and applies a tourniquet to his foot. Klein feebly raises his hand and gives Katz his encrypted communicator, “Vered HeHarim” (Mountain Rose), lest it fall into enemy hands. “I see my friend and commander, Roi Klein,” Chetbon writes, “lying on Lebanese land, losing blood after the supreme feat. He realizes that these are the last minutes of his life. I try to imagine his thoughts in those painful moments; perhaps he is thinking of Sarah, his wife, and his children, Gilad and Yoav, or of his short life. But certainly, Klein would not think only of himself. “Mountain Rose” is an encrypted device. Klein knows that if this device falls into the hands of Hezbollah, they will use its information against our forces”.

Security Concepts presented in the book:

1. Overpowering the enemy, whether in symmetrical or asymmetrical warfare, can only be possible through ground maneuvers within enemy territory in order to create a sense of your presence there. An examination of military history teaches us that no enemy has ever been defeated using air power exclusively (except through the use age of non-conventional weapons). – “The firepower of new technology should support the maneuvers of forces in the battlefield, rather than replace them.”

2. A drive to defeat terrorism and a clear concept of victory must reemerge in Western military terminology. In the years 2002 - 2005, the Israeli security system, including the IDF and the Shin Bet, proved that suicide terrorism in Judea and Samaria can be defeated. Determined and consistent operations penetrating into densely built-up areas that had been seen as “out of operational bounds” were proven to be effective. The integration of accurate intelligence with the operation of several infantry forces led to the eventual collapse of the organizational system of Islamic terrorism in this region.

3. In the war against fundamentalist terrorism, the winner will be the side that is motivated by a clear ideological concept, a belief in the justness of their cause and social-national resilience. The “people's army” model, according to which Israeli civilians from all walks participate in compulsory service and later on the reserves, is proven to be particularly effective in times of stress. The sense of “Fighting for Home” is strong and leads the forces to win at all costs, even when the leadership is somewhat perplexed or indecisive. Particular examples of the “people's army’s” advantages can be learned from the War of 1973 (Yom Kippur war) and the Second Lebanon War in 2006.