'There are soldiers for whom this battle has not ended'

President Reuven Rivlin visits northern border on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal from Lebanon.

Orli Harari ,

Shlomi Binder and Reuven Rivlin
Shlomi Binder and Reuven Rivlin
Kobi Gideon/GPO

20 years after the withdrawal from Lebanon, President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday visited the northern border. The president was escorted on his visit by commander of the IDF Galil formation Brig.-Gen. Shlomi Binder.

The president began his visit at the operations room at Camp Biranit and spoke to the observers stationed there. “The quiet and the green of this area can be deceptive. In a moment, this verdant landscape can be set ablaze,” said the president to the soldiers, praising their work. He also said to the commanders, “We know very well that Hezbollah and its proxies, Iran and its proxies, will take every opportunity to destabilize our security. Protecting this incendiary border requires you to mount overt and covert operations and, most importantly, responsibility, judgement, mission focus and the will to win.”

The president also noted, “I know that the IDF is doing everything to prevent attempts to infiltrate. But the Lebanese government, and UNIFIL which assists it, must take responsibility for preventing attempts to cross the border and breaching the calm in this area.”

The president then met with former commanders who served in a range of roles in the northern region during Israel’s presence in the security zone. The conversation was led by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Erez Lev-Ram, and included Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Gershon, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shmulik Zakai, who said “What I remember of Lebanon is mostly the failures, and there is not a day when the figure of a soldier of a friend who was killed doesn’t cross my mind, and I think what could I have done differently. What I took from Lebanon was the sense of responsibility as a soldier and commander. Erez Gerstein and I were very aggressive in how we talked about the withdrawal from Lebanon. It is always better to speak politely, and for that I apologize, but the role of the army is to defend the citizens, not the opposite. Soldiers are not children, they are warriors. Their job is to fight, and if required we must sacrifice their lives so that the citizens of the state live in security.”

During the meeting, the participants talked about the changes and developments that were created during the time in southern Lebanon, and shared personal stories of the period that formed them as soldiers and officers.

During the conversation, the president said, “You experienced this complex sector personally. You, the experienced reservists, also know well the days after the war. You know that the Lebanon War never really ended. It continued into another long campaign which was no less painful. It was a campaign to defend normal life in the northern communities, but at great cost to us that influenced Israeli society deeply.”

“Recently, you reminded those who had forgotten of the days when this area was alight every day. There is no doubt that this was a campaign in every respect,” the president added, noting that he backs the IDF Chief of Staff’s decision to establish a committee to consider awarding a campaign medal to those who fought in this campaign. “Until now, there are soldiers for whom this battle has not ended. Those with PTSD struggle daily with a wound that will not heal. They go back to the battlefield every day, to its sounds and sights. I want to tell them – you are not alone. We are with you.”

At the end of his visit, the president looked out over Lebanon and was briefed by the divisional commander on the duties and challenges facing those serving in the area.

From there, the president continued his visit at the Dolev post, where he met observers and soldiers from the various units posted in the region and heard from them about their duties.

The president praised the soldiers, men and women, for carrying out their daily duties, saying, “At a time when the State of Israel is fighting on the corona front, we know that we can trust you to hold down the northern front. We can rely on you, and we are proud of you.” He added, “We do not see the Lebanese people as the enemy. But Hezbollah extends into every area of life in Lebanon. The Lebanese government, and the UNIFIL force that assists it, must take responsibility for preventing every attempt to cross the border and undermine the quiet in the area.”