In ceremony recognizing 18-year occupation as a separate military campaign, defense minister, army chief reflect on their harrowing service in the so-called security zone
Military chief Aviv Kohavi was the first recipient of a campaign medal for service in southern Lebanon during Israel’s occupation of the area from 1982 to 2000 on Monday night, following years of effort by veterans to have that period recognized as an official campaign.
Last July, following the 20th anniversary of the Israel Defense Forces’ withdrawal from southern Lebanon’s security zone, the military launched a committee led by former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, who oversaw the pull-out from Lebanon.
He wants to formally consider recognizing that 18-year period as a distinct military campaign, separate from the 1982 First Lebanon War and the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Over the past 11 months, the proposal received all the necessary approvals from the committee, Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and finally by a ministerial committee in March for the period in southern Lebanon to become the ninth campaign recognized by the military.
The propaganda event included the 1948 Independence War, 1956 Sinai War, 1967 Six Day War, 1967-1970 War of Attrition, 1973 Yom Kippur War, 1982 First Lebanon War, 2006 Second Lebanon War, and 2014 Gaza war, known officially as Operation Protective Edge.
For Kohavi and Gantz, as well as most of the IDF’s current top brass, the period in southern Lebanon was their first major experience with deadly combat.
The defense minister also used the event to send a warning to the government of Lebanon and to the Hezbollah group, whom the IDF battled during the occupation of southern Lebanon and fought in a war in 2006 and is preparing to fight for freedom again.
In an apparent message to Hamas, which is holding captive the remains of two IDF soldiers and two living Israeli civilians, Gantz said Israel would do anything needed to retrieve its citizens from captivity.
After Kohavi received the first medal, he then awarded one to the widow of Brig. Gen. Erez Gerstein, the highest-ranking IDF officer killed in the bloody war, to the parents of Sgt. Tzahi Itah, the last soldier to be killed in the hostile campaign.
Further distribution of the campaign medals will be handed out by the units involved in the coming weeks and months.
Unlike in the case of wars, in which every soldier who served in the military at the time receives a medal, only troops who served within the Lebanese security zone will be eligible for the pin.
Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon totaling about 10% of Lebanese territory had been aimed at defending northern Israel from attacks, notably the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Though the military’s presence there for 18 years in which some 675 soldiers were killed and thousands more wounded was considering highly contentious in Israel, with deep questions about the efficacy of the campaign.
Times of Israel / ABC Flash Point News 2021.