As Israel prepares for Independence Day by remembering its fallen soldiers and terrorist victims, stories of great heroism continue to surface.

Lt.-Col. Emanuel Moreno, for instance, who was killed upon returning from a major operation deep inside Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War, has been likened to a modern-day Bar Kokhba (the legendary hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome 1,900 years ago). Moreno has been awarded at least two posthumous prizes for his bravery, including the Jerusalem Conference Award for Jewish Heroism and the Menachem Begin Prize.

Friends of Moreno, speaking (in Hebrew) with INN-TV this week, said, "Without a doubt, he was one of the most talented and praiseworthy fighters we have ever had in this country. Not for naught was he often likened to Bar-Kokhba in our unit - both because of his faith and also in terms of his combat ability and dedication. He would always pull things one step further, to places that no one believed they could be taken."

Lt.-Col. Moreno, 36, lived in Moshav Telamim, and is survived by his wife Maya and their three little children - Aviyah, Neriah and Noam. He was a fighter in the IDF's most elite unit, the Sayeret Matkal, and took part in many secret operations. He planned many of them, and took part in more of them than any other fighter.

The Critical Operation

The battle operation in which Moreno was killed, details of which have still not been publicized in full, involved an attack on a school building in the Baalbek region of south-eastern Lebanon, not far from the Syrian border. The school was being used to store Syrian weapons given to Hizbullah, and was also a hideout for Hizbullah terrorists. Lt.-Col. Moreno headed a unit of 100 men in the surprise attack, and two Hummer jeeps were helicoptered in to the area for the battle, in which three terrorists were killed. Moreno was killed and two soldiers were wounded after the successful operation, when Hizbullah ambushed the forces.

"The operation was necessary," an official in the Prime Minister's Office said afterwards, "because Hizbullah is violating the ceasefire by smuggling in war materiel from Syria and Iran. It was a necessary operation, and it is good that we did it."

"He never thought of himself," a comrade in arms says about Moreno, "but only about the group. At the end of very hard treks, he always first worried about the team, not himself. And when he had to think of his future plans, he didn't think what was good for him himself, but what the country and the army needed from him at that time... His modesty was simply unbelievable, especially in terms of what kind of person he really was... He always made little of his own accomplishments in comparison to others - and you have to understand that this man was in places that - it simply can't be grasped that an Israeli fighter was in places like that and did things like that..."

Another friend said, "I spoke to him a day before the operation [in which he was killed], complaining to him about our army's poor showing in the war. He said that this had to happen this way so that the Nation of Israel should wake up and understand... He was very calm, even though I understood that he was on the way to an important and secret operation... I think about Emanuel all the time - what he would have done, what he would have said - and I hope that this will help us to be better people..."

Family Didn't Know

During the week of mourning for Emanuel, his brother Rabbi Shmuel Moreno said, "We always knew that there was no point in us asking him what he was doing in the army, because his character was simply one of modesty; he wouldn't talk about it. But we saw that he always felt that he was on a mission during his military service to raise up the Kingdom of Israel in anticipation of the Full Redemption... I just talked to a fellow officer of his, and he couldn't believe how little we knew about what Emanuel did. We are now hearing about his years in the unit, and we're collecting the stories... His picture has not even been publicized, by request of his unit. Emanuel was in very many strange and varied places, and publication of his picture could hurt national security."

"He did not lose his nerve, even under extreme and dangerous situations," stated the Begin Heritage Center judges in awarding his prize, "and this often made the difference between success and failure. He many times endangered himself to save his underlings and comrades... He was a warrior who saw his military service as an important mission to which he totally dedicated himself - and was also a passionate student who used every spare minute for Torah study and acts of kindness to others."