Israel Ziv, a retired Israeli general, grabbed his gun to confront Hamas | ET REALITY


Israel Ziv, a retired general in the Israeli army, was out for a bike ride Saturday morning when a flood of alarming calls began coming in.

A huge barrage of rockets had been fired from Gaza. Gunmen from Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that controls the territory, were crossing the border. He would soon learn that a friend’s son was trapped in a kibbutz.

He ran home, put on his uniform and grabbed his weapon, a nine millimeter pistol.

A few minutes later he was flying down a deserted road in his new white Audi. As he approached the Gaza border, plumes of black smoke rose in front of him and the Israeli army, at least at first, was nowhere to be seen. Hamas attackers ran across the landscape, hunched under the weight of heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, firing at him.

“They were done,” he said. “Hundreds of them.”

Mr. Ziv, stocky, spiky-haired, somewhat irascible and former head of the operations directorate of the Israel Defense Forces, is a well-known figure in Israel, especially now. His weekend actions – driving headlong into the battle zone armed only with a gun, organizing a confused group of soldiers into a combat unit and supervising evacuations – have been widely publicized on Israeli news channels. . In the process, he has become an avatar of Israel’s DIY spirit and the failure of its military and intelligence agencies.

The Israeli government said the toll from the devastating Hamas raid had reached 1,200 people killed, most of them unarmed civilians.

Amid anguish over the massacre, public frustrations are already beginning to boil, and many Israelis, including Ziv, are at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“The government is totally paralyzed,” said Ziv, who, even before this crisis, was extremely critical of Netanyahu for what he said were policies that bitterly divided Israelis and put the country’s security at risk.

However, Ziv remains welcome in Israel’s corridors of power. On Wednesday he held several conference calls with industry leaders about raising tens of millions of dollars to help victims and their families.

“Civilians only,” he shouted into his phone. “None of that for the army.”

He spoke to senior army and police officers about reinforcing a civil defense force that had clearly been overwhelmed.

He even entered Israel’s Defense Ministry, where he met with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and held secret meetings with national security officials in which they left their cell phones on the hallway floor before entering a small office. to talk about which, The hope was that it could not be traced.

Public faith in the country’s military is so weakened that one of the biggest issues Israelis talk about is arming themselves. Many already own guns, but the government announced this week that it was buying 10,000 assault rifles for civilians, along with bulletproof vests. Ziv is leading an effort to empower retired generals and former soldiers to rebuild community defense squads in the Gaza border area and across the country.

“We need guns,” one man pleaded with Ziv while visiting the site of a massacre on Wednesday. “And we need a system.”

Mr. Ziv put a hand on the man’s back and said, “We’re putting that system together right now.”

As they spoke, huge bangs echoed and black smoke rose from the horizon, obscuring the banana plantations and wire fence along Gaza’s border with Israel that Hamas had breached to launch the attack. Gaza, just a few kilometers away, has come under relentless attack by Israeli warplanes since Saturday, killing hundreds of Palestinians.

And in almost every village where Israelis have been massacred, when a light breeze stirred the slender eucalyptus trees, it also carried the smell of death.

Ziv spent Wednesday exploring this landscape. Sixty-six years old and a decorated parachutist, he revisited the same terrain where he had tried to rescue as many people as he could. That included the site of the ill-fated desert rave where Hamas terrorists massacred hundreds of youth, which Ziv believes could have been the main target of the attack. Almost everywhere he went, soldiers and civilians thanked him and then sheepishly asked for a selfie.

His account of what he did on Saturday has been backed up by other retired generals and active-duty officers who fought with him over the weekend.

He left his home, a beautiful house overlooking olive groves near Tel Aviv, and arrived at the battle zone around 10 am. He was traveling with a close friend, Noam Tibon, a retired general whose son was trapped in the Nahal Oz kibbutz.

Tibon’s son, a prominent journalist, called his father in deep distress and told him that armed men were approaching him and his family. In recent media interviews, Tibon said he told his son: “Believe me, I will go. This is my profession. Nobody can stop me.”

Ziv said that as they approached Gaza, fires were burning everywhere and Hamas gunmen, unchallenged, were shooting at passing buildings and cars. At first, he said, he did not see any Israeli soldiers. But as they advanced towards the besieged villages, they encountered small groups of Israeli soldiers trying to counterattack, but clearly outnumbered.

“Things weren’t organized,” Ziv said.

He and Tibon joined a platoon of young soldiers, piled several of them into the Audi and began attacking Hamas gunmen on the road, Ziv said.

It was difficult to take them on with just a gun, Ziv said, but after a soldier in his car was wounded, Ziv grabbed his M16 and started shooting out the window.

The worst feeling, however, was knowing that, although they were some of the first to respond, it was too late.

The bodies were scattered on the road, along the kibbutzim paths, in the shady forest areas they passed through. What Mr. Ziv shared has been corroborated by copious videos and photographs, some of them filmed by Hamas gunmen themselves. They chased Israeli civilians sitting in their cars, huddled in their homes, hiding at a bus stop and running for their lives.

“No one could imagine they would do what they did,” Ziv said. “It is a brutality that we have not witnessed since the establishment of Israel.”

He added: “So now we need to change the whole doctrine on Gaza. No more Hamas.”

How do you do that? They Asked.

“Level the terrain,” he said.

Ziv and Tibon separated near the kibbutz where Tibon’s son lives. While Tibon joined a group of Israeli soldiers fighting Hamas members there and eventually rescued his son, Ziv ran to other trouble spots. He said he spent nearly 24 hours straight canvassing the kibbutzim and villages under attack, firing his own weapon, organizing civilian evacuations and coordinating with the military to send backup units as quickly as possible.

The worst thing he found was the rave place. On Friday night, several thousand young people, Israelis and many foreigners, flocked to an open field a few kilometers from the Gaza border to hold an open-air dance party overnight. When Ziv got there Saturday night, he said, there was nothing left to do.

There were bodies everywhere: in the camp; in the field where everyone had been dancing; Car after car after car lining the road, full of young people trying to escape.

He ran to a young man who had collapsed from a car and felt his neck. There is no pulse.

“I think the trigger for this whole attack was this event,” Ziv said. “Hamas planned this for a long time. But they knew a critical mass would be here this weekend.”

According to evidence the Israeli military found at the rave site and what witnesses said, Hamas attackers surrounded the gathering on three sides. A group of gunmen opened fire on the crowd, methodically pushing the terrified partygoers towards the road, where more gunmen waited to mow them down.

“I can still hear them screaming,” Ziv said.

He stood in place looking at a field filled with water bottles, rolled up mats, still-full Oreo boxes, shirts, pants, tents and empty camp chairs. It was as if everything was there except the people. A soldier silently walked past him, carrying a black plastic bag, searching for documents.

“People don’t understand how fragile the situation is,” Ziv said. “Hamas has to pay for this.” The pause. “With its existence.”

Then he walked away.

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