Note: The personal stories highlighted in this article are just the tip of the heroism iceberg displayed on the battlefield by Israeli soldiers. The stories are not organized in any specific order. One act of bravery cannot be compared to another.
The Medal of Valor (Hebrew: עיטור הגבורה, Itur HaGvura) is the highest Israeli military decoration. To this day, forty medals have been awarded. The last medal of valor was awarded in 1975. Twelve medals of valor were awarded for actions in the War of Independence (Hero of Israel recipients automatically awarded the Medal of Valor), four for the Sinai War, twelve for the Six-Day War, one for the War of Attrition, eight for the Yom Kippur War, and three others awarded on other occasions.
The Medal of Courage (Hebrew: עיטור העוז, Itur HaOz) is an Israeli military decoration. The medal is awarded for carrying out acts of gallantry at the risk of life, during combat duty. 223 awards have been made. The last onw was awarded in 2010. Two recipients have been awarded the medal twice.
The Medal of Distinguished Service (Hebrew: :עיטור המופת) is an Israeli military decoration. The medal is awarded for an act of exemplary bravery in the line of duty. To date, 601 medals have been awarded, the last in 2015. Five recipients have been awarded the medal twice. One unit, the reconnaissance battalion of the Givati Brigade was awarded the medal in 2005.
Roi Klein is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Courage
Roi Klein (July 10, 1975—July 26, 2006) was an Israeli major in the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces (and one of its most highly decorated soldiers). He died during the 2006 Lebanon War.
Klein was born and raised in Raanana, Israel. His parents, Aharon and Shoshana Klein, were Holocaust survivors. His father’s side originated from Germany and fled to Israel at the onset of World War II. Most of his mother’s family was killed in the Holocaust.
Klein was involved in the Bnei Akiva youth movement as a teenager. He excelled in his studies at the Amit Technological High School, completing his mathematics matriculation in 10th grade, and took a few undergraduate mathematics courses during high school. After graduating high school, he studied at the Bnei David mechina (pre-military preparatory school). He studied Jewish religious texts and took part in hard physical training to prepare for his service. As his service approached he increased his physical training, and embarked on long-distance runs from Raanana to Netanya.
Klein was drafted into the IDF in August 1994. He was accepted into the Paratroopers Brigade. During this time, the South Lebanon conflict was happening, with the IDF fighting Lebanese guerrillas in the Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon. To counter guerrilla attacks, the IDF set up the elite Egoz Reconnaissance Unit, an elite unit of the Golani Brigade, which was to conduct raids against guerrillas, and Roi’s unit was among those selected to be its founding members. As a result, Klein became a member of the Golani Brigade, and would rise through its ranks. Klein served in the southern Lebanon security zone before being honorably discharged from the army in August 1998.
After his discharge, Klein returned to the mechina, where he devoted himself to Torah study for a year, then went on a two-month tour of Africa. When he returned to Israel, he accepted an offer from Hagai Mordechai, the commander of the Egoz Unit, to return to service and supervise training procedures in the unit. One year later, he re-entered military service as the Egoz Unit’s training platoon commander. He built a training plan that would subsequently become the model for the Egoz Unit. During the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Roi was leading a final mission in the Bint Jbeil area, leading a unit of Egoz cadets on a stakeout on the request of Hagai Mordechai so the trainees could experience “a taste of Lebanon”, and were left behind by the premature IDF withdrawal, leaving them trapped in Lebanon. The unit was ultimately extracted by helicopter.
In 2001, during the Second Intifada, Klein commanded an ambush in the Nablus area in which five Palestinian terrorists were killed. The following year, he was commended for this action.
In 2002, Klein met his future wife Sarah, originally from Denmark, through mutual friends, and married shortly after. The couple moved to the West Bank and built a home in the Israeli outpost of Hayovel, near the settlement of Eli. The couple had two sons: Gilad and Yoav.
That same year, Klein began to study for a degree in Industrial Engineering and Management as part of a special program for military personnel, in which the army would pay for his tuition. Despite having been accepted into the Technion, one of Israel’s most prestigious universities, Klein instead chose to study at the Ariel University Center of Samaria in the West Bank settlement of Ariel so he could continue to live in Hayovel and pursue religious studies at the kollel in Eli. He excelled in his engineering studies, and qualified for the honors’ scholarship every year, meaning the army did not need to pay his tuition. He graduated with honors.
In 2006, Klein was appointed deputy commander of the 51st Battalion of the Golani Brigade, a position he held at the time of his death.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Klein and his unit took part in the Battle of Bint Jbeil. During a Hezbollah ambush, a hand grenade was thrown over the wall that was between Hezbollah militants, and Klein and his unit. Klein jumped on the live grenade and muffled the explosion with his body. The soldiers reported that Klein recited the Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael, as he jumped on the grenade. After the grenade exploded and critically wounded him, he reported his own death, yelling “Klein’s dead, Klein’s dead” over the radio. In the following minutes, as he lay dying, he ordered soldiers who came to administer first aid and evacuate him to focus on Lieutenant Amichai Merhavia, another soldier who had been hit (and later died also) instead. He then handed over his encoded radio to another officer, who took command of the force, and died. According to The Telegraph he yelled “Long live Israel”,although this was probably a misinterpretation of “Shema Yisrael”.
Emanuel (Emil) Landau
Emanuel Landau is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage during the 1948 Independence War.
Emanuel (1928-1948) was born in Warsaw. Emanuel’s family fled to the USSR when WWII began. His father became sick with Typhus while serving in the Red Army. He came back home and then died. His mother, who couldn’t support them, left Emanuel and his sister Ilana (Alina) in a Christian orphanage. Few months later, in 1942, a representative of the Jewish Agency arrived at the orphanage to take the Jewish orphans as a result of an agreement between the Polish government in exile and the USSR to allow the passage of 24,000 Polish soldiers and refugees to Theran, which was under British rule. Emil and Ilana were among 1,000 Jewish kids who traveled by train to Teheran, most of them orphans. They lived in an orphanage until 1943 when they immigrated to Eretz Israel. In Israel, Emanuel studied in Kaduri, the agricultural high school and joined the Palmach, the military arm of the Haganah.
In March 1948, he was in training in Ramat Yochanan when the news arrived that an armed Arab munition supply convoy was on its way from Lebanon to Haifa to deliver weapon to the Arab forces in Haifa, something that would have given the Arab forces a great advantage. The convoy included three trucks loaded with two tons of explosives, 550 guns, 5 anti-tank grenade launchers, 120,000 rounds, and about 1,000 hand grenades. The convoy was protected by escort car, led by Haifa’s Arab forces commander.
The first attempt to stop the convoy near Naharia, by Battalion 21 of the Karmali brigade had failed. A squad of 10 soldiers, under the command of Pinchas Zusman, left Ramat Yochanan to to stop the convoy. When the munition convoy arrived at Kiryat Motzkin, it was stopped by road block. The Palmach squad attacked the convoy. Avraham Avigdorov killed the two machine gunners of the convoy. Pasamnik threw a hand grenade that caused an explosion of explosives who were in one of the cars. The explosion killed him and the Haifa’s Arab forces commander. Emanuel jumped on one of the truck in attempt to drive it away with its important cargo. One of the bullets which were fired on the truck caused the it to explode. Emanuel was killed in the explosion.
About 30 Arab fighters were killed in the battle. The outcome of the battle demoralized the Arab forces in Haifa, which helped the plamach capture the city.
Nechemiah Cohen is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Nechemiah Cohen (April 30, 1943 – June 5, 1967) is the most decorated soldier in the history of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He shares this honour with close friend and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Major Amitai Hason. He received five decorations – one Medal of Distinguished Service and four Chief Of Staff Citations. Cohen was killed in combat near the City of Gaza on June 5, 1967, the first day of the Six-Day War, aged 24.
Daniel Ben Ayun
Daniel Ben Ayun is the recipient of the Israel Defense Forces Medal of Courage for his actions in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
On the night of October 6, 1973, during an attack on Egyptian forces, Daniel’s platoon commander was hit and Daniel replaced him as the platoon leader. With his leg badly injured, his tank’s driver badly injured, and the tank on fire, Daniel laid on top of the tank next to the driver and drove the tank, while the driver pressed the gas pedal with his leg. Daniel directed his tank toward another Israeli tank that was hit, and rescued his crew. He instructed the driver of the rescued crew to sit on his driver, who couldn’t be moved, and drive the tank while Daniel was guiding him. When Egyptian soldiers climbed on the tank, he killed them with his personal weapon. Fifteen minutes after reaching a safe area and evacuating it, the tank exploded.
Amos Yarkoni is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Yarkoni was born Abd el-Majid Hidr in the Bedouin village of Na’ura (east of Afula, in the Gilboa region of northern Israel). His family were Muslim Bedouin of the Mazarib tribe.
In 1936, at the age of 16, he joined a band which sabotaged the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (Tapline), an oil pipeline running from the Iraqi oilfields to Haifawhile Eretz Israel was under British Administration (after Israeli independence, the Tapline was redirected to Sidon, Lebanon). Due to an internal disagreement within the band, Abd el-Majid fled to a Jewish area of Palestine, where he was sheltered by Jews. There, he made contacts in the Haganah through Moshe Dayan.
Abd el-Majid kept in touch with Dayan up until the War of Independence. In December 1947, as the war raged, he placed his destiny with the Jews, joining the nascent IDF and changing his name to Amos Yarkoni.
Yarkoni served in a number of units during the War of Independence, eventually settling in the Minorities Unit, and proved himself to be an excellent tracker and patrolman, continually astounding his fellow soldiers with his abilities. In 1953, Yarkoni passed the Officer’s Course (his main concern being that the exam was in Hebrew), and went on to become the Commanding Officer of the Minorities Unit.
In 1955, the frequency and effectiveness of Fedayeen attacks being launched from the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip and the Jordanian-controlled Hebron Hills area against isolated Israeli civilian communities increased, and the IDF searched for new ways to eliminate the threat. Rehavam Zeevi, then a senior officer in the Southern Command and in charge of securing the isolated towns of the Jordan Valley, recommended Amos Yarkoni for the task. Yarkoni and Zeevi had met some years earlier, when serving in a joint minorities/Jewish unit, and remained close friends for the rest of their lives.
Yarkoni accepted the recommendation, and the IDF tracking and counter-terrorism unit was formed under his guidance and command. The unit was named “Shaked” (Hebrew: שקד, meaning almond). Shaked was also an acronym for שומרי קו הדרום (Shomrei Kav ha Darom, Guardians of the Southern Border).
The unit fielded both Jews and non-Jews, yet when it came to Bedouin recruits, Amos was careful to accept only Bedouins from northern Israel (rather than the south of the country), so that they would not have to fight against their tribal brethren. Yarkoni was based in the Negev for many years, and was involved in countless operations. He was wounded many times, and his body was peppered with bullet and shrapnel wounds. He lost his right hand in combat in November 1959, and was badly wounded in the leg in an explosion.
In 1961, after his recovery, Yarkoni was re-appointed as Commanding Officer of the Shaked Battalion. At the time, the Military Commander commented that “if Moshe Dayan could be the Ramatkal (Chief of General Staff) without an eye, we can have a Battalion Commander with a prosthetic hand“.
Even by this stage, many Israelis did not know that Amos Yarkoni was not Jewish: most simply assumed he was a Jew from an Arab country. A running joke among those who did know was “Fouad the Jew and Amos the Bedouin“, referring to the two lead officers of counter-insurgency in the Jordan Valley: “Fouad” Ben-Eliezer, an Iraqi-born Jew with an Arabic name, and Amos Yarkoni, a Bedouin with a typically Sabra/Israeliname.
During the Six-Day War (1967), Yarkoni served on the Sinai front. After years of distinguished service, Yarkoni retired from the IDF in 1969.
Lieutenant Colonel Yoseph (Yosi) Ben Hanan
Lieutenant Colonel Yoseph Ben Hanan is the recipient of the Israel Defense Forces Medal of Courage for his actions in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Yosi Ben Hanan was born in Jerusalem in 1945. His father Michael was a famous radio broadcaster, who for many years broadcasted an early morning fitness program on the Israeli radio.
When he was 16 years old, Yosi joined the military preparatory school in Haifa. He joined the Israeli Armored Corps in 1963. He became famous during the 1967 Six Days war when is picture in the Suez Canal was on the cover of Life magazine. After the Six Days war, he commanded a tank company and a tank battalion during the War of Attrition and in invasion to Lebanon in 1972.
Yosi Ben Hanan was on a honeymoon in Nepal when the Yom Kippur War began in October 1973. He returned immediate to Israel, arriving on October 8th. Yosi was given the codename “Morning Exercise” (because of his father’s radio show), so other Israeli soldiers in the area will recognize him. He was ordered to assemble a tank force from the remaining tanks of brigade 188, which was decimated in the first days of the war while stopping the advancing Syrian army on the Golan heights.
On October 9th, Yosi Ben Hanan, participated in the decisive battle to stop the Syrian army north of Quneitra. He was injured in his face while chasing the Syrian army, but continued to lead his unit in battle. On October 11, he led an attack into a Syrian territory. That night he was injured for the second time, but continued. On October 12th, he was injured badly in an attack by enemy aircrafts, but refused to evacuate despite a direct order of the unit physician and the senior commander of the Israeli forces in the area.
When the opposing forces reached a standstill, Yosi suggested to attack the Syrian from an area that was considered impassable. Even though he was weak from his injuries, he volunteered to lead a small force on the attack. Yosi’s force has reached its destination. In the battle, several Israeli tanks were hit, including Yosi’s tank. He was injured for the fourth time. He was left in this condition for four hours. His tank driver helped him to survive. During this time, he continued to direct on the radio the artillery fire and the rescue forces. He was rescued after dark by a force of the Israeli elite unit Sayret matkal, which was led by Yoni Netanyahu (Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother).
After the war, Yosi Ben Hanan continued his military service and rising in ranks. Between 1896 and 1990 he served as brigadier general as the commander of the Armored Corps. Between 1990 and 1994 he served as a general as the commander of the College for National Security. Yosi Ben Hanan retired from the army in 1994.
Anton Siymin is the receipiant of the Israel Defense Forces Medal of Courage for his actions in the 2nd Lebanon War of 2006.
Anton Siyomin was born in Kazakhstan. When he was 15 he was exposed to the Jewish agency activities in his area for the first time. He joined the group and became attached to his Jewish roots. Two years later, in 2002, his family immigrated to Israel. He stayed Kazakhstan for six more months to finish high school.
In Israel, when it was time to join the army, he wanted to join the paratroopers, but initially he had difficulties because of the language barrier. After studying hard for the exam, he was accepted to the paratroopers basic training. In one of the jumps he landed hard and broke his ankle and his leg. After rehabilitation, the army wanted to discharge for medical reasons, but Anton fought to return to his unit. He eventually convinced the military doctors to clear him. He completed the paratroopers’ non-commissioned officers’ school and then was sent to the officers’ school, where he finally learned to read and write in Hebrew.
On August 7, 2006, Siomin was a platoon commander in Paratroop Battalion 890. He had returned with his soldiers, for the second time, to the town of Bint Jbail, where they were ordered to go into abandoned houses on the outskirts of the town, and clear them from Hezbollah terrorists. He led a small search force of four: A machine gunner, a radio operator, a squad leader, and him. The doors to houses were locked and they had difficult time breaking in. The door to the fourth house was slightly open, which seemed suspicious. He called his commanders on the radio for instructions. Anton was told to enter without shooting in case there were civilians in the house. The house was completely dark. The team turned on their flashlights. Anton and the squad leader Malko Ambau were at the front. They walked in a long corridor with rooms on both sides. When they entered one of the rooms they were hit by enemy fire. Anton stepped back out of the room when he saw Malko falling. The terrorists jumped out through the windows. They were killed by the force which was outside. Anton feared for his squad leader life and was worried that he maybe kidnapped, so called his forces to stop the fire, overcame his fear, threw in a hand grenade, fired his weapon, and crawled back into the room. The room was full with smoke. Anton dragged out Malko Ambau by his leg. Outside he checked for pulse and realized that Malko was dead. Anton returned to the house with his radio operator and the machine-gunner, looking for the terrorist that killed Malko. He found him in the last room and fired at him. The terrorist fired at the same time. Anton killed him, but took a bullet in the back of his armored vest in the process, and was injured in his face, one in his shoulder and hand. Anton took Malko to the medical team where a doctor confirmed that he was dead. Four Hezbollah terrorists were killed inside the house and eight were killed outside.
Anton received medical treatment and stayed two additional days with his troops in the Lebanese village before he was evacuated on a tank to Israel, where he was taken to a hospital for operation on his hand and his eye.
Anton was injured for the second time from a friendly fire in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008. Two days after the injury, he returned to Gaza to replace a commander who was seriously injured in battle.
At “Army Day” July 17, 1949, (three days before the last cease of fire agreement was signed), a military parade was held in Tel Aviv and the decorations were presented by the president of Israel Chaim Weizman, the Prime minister Ben Gurion and Chief of Staff Yakov Dori. Of the 12 awardees, only 8 were alive. The relatives of the four fallen hero’s received the decoration.
From left to right : Yohai Bin Nun, Arieh Atzmoni, Emil Brig, Aharon Feller, Yair Racheli, Ben-Zion Leitner and Abraham Avigdorov
Emil Brig is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Emil Brig (1922-2002) was born in Poland. In World War II he fled east and was caught by the Nazis in Bukovina and was led to a killing ditch to be executed. He was one of the last people in the group led to be executed and was saved when the executions were stopped. He was beaten until he fainted. He found his Father and sister on a train to the concentration camp. His father and him jumped of the train and joined the partisans in the Carpathian Mountains. He was with his father on a mission against the Nazis when his father was killed. He went from house to house looking for his sister. The Nazis attacked the house where he was hiding, but he was saved. He joined the Zionist youth movement in Hungary. He was captured shortly after that and was sentenced to death. The arrival of the Red Army on the day of his execution saved him. After the war, he immigrated to Eretz Israel and was a member in the Hagana, the underground movement to create an independent Jewish state.
During the Independence War, he was a soldier in the Golani brigade and participated in battles in the Jordan Valley. On May 14th 1948, the day of Israel’s deceleration of independence, he participated in a mission to demolish three bridges near Kibutz Gesher.
When enemy armored vehicles approached the bridge, and two out of the three explosives that were attached to the bridge before the battle failed to detonate, under heavy enemy fire, Emil Brig approached the bridge. In the last moment before the enemy armored vehicles crossed it, he detonated the explosives. The bridge was destroyed. Emil stopped the enemy’s armored vehicles from approaching the kibbutz.
After the war, Emil returned to Europe searching for Nazi war criminals. He later returned to Israel where he lived his life selling tickets to entertainment shows. Emil published an autobiographic book called Rise and Fight.
Avraham Avigdorov is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage during the 1948 Independence War.
Avraham (1929-2012) was born in the Mizpe village near Tiberias. His father was in the Hashomer origanization, the Jewish defense militia that protected Jewish settlements. He was killed in 1936 during the Arab uprising. Avraham was seven years old.
Avraham studied agriculture in Mikve Israel and in 1947, when he was seventeen, he joined the Palmach, the military arm of the Haganah. In March 1948, he was in training in Ramat Yochanan when the news arrived that an armed Arab munition supply convoy was on its way from Lebanon to Haifa. Avrahm left with a Palmach unit to stop the munition convoy.
On March 19, 1948, the Plamach unit attacked the munition convoy in Kiryat Motzkin. Avarahm jumped on the road, shooting his Sten submachinegun, killing the two convoy machinegun operators who fired on the Plamach squad with their machineguns. Avraham was hit in the large explosion that killed Emanuel Landau. His comrades were certain that he was killed and brought him to the morgue where someone noticed that he was alive. After three weeks Avraham regained his consciousness and learned that the attack was successful.
David Shirzi is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage during the 1967 battle on Tel Faher in Syria during the Six Days War.
David Shirazi (1947–1967) grew up in Tel Aviv. He excelled in sport. He joined the Golani Brigade in 1965 and served as a soldier in battalion 12. In the Six Days War he fought on the Golan Heights. He participated in the battle on the Syrian fortification Tel Faher.
Private David Shirazi was part of the assault team that had to climb up the 100 meters rigged slope under heavy Syrian mortar and machine gun fire to reach the barbed wire fence. When the attempt to blow up the barb wires in front of the Syrian bunkers failed, realizing that wire cutters would have taken too long, David lay himself across the wire and told his comrades to use his body as a bridge. Once his unit crossed over, he ran forward while carrying on his back 25 pounds of mortar shells. As he fought his way, he handed the shells to the mortar operators. When he ran out of mortar shells, he charged forward and caught up with his company commander. When the machine gunner fell wounded, he took his weapon and continued the attack until he was killed from a bullet to his head by a Syrian sharpshooter.
The Israeli term “lying on the fence” to describe an ultimate sacrifice was born out of David Shirazi’s action on Tel Faher.
Tel Faher is now a park commemorating those who died in the battle.
Oded Amir is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage during an underwater commando operation near Port Said, in Egypt during the Yom Kipur War in 1973.
Oded Amir (1950-1973) grew up in kibutz Gesher Haziv. He joined the IDf in 1968 and volunteered to serve in the Israeli Sayret 13 (the naval commando unit, equivalent to the US SEAL, or the British Special Boat Service). After completing his basic training, he went to officer schools. After graduation, he took part in many daring operations.
In the Yom Kippur War he led a commando force of two pairs that got through the steel net around the Egyptian naval base in Port Said. Oded Amir and Eli Kimchi went on a mission to attach mines to an Egyptian missile and torpedo boats. They sunk three boats, but never came back, It is assumed that they were killed by depth charges.
Eli Kimchi is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Courage for his courage during an underwater commando operation near Port Said, in Egypt during the Yom Kipur War in 1973.
Eli (1951-1973) grew up in Acre. He graduated from the Naval Officer’s high school in Acre and joined the navy. He was a mechanic on a missile boat when he volunteered to Syaret 13. He was Odded Amir’s teammate on the night when they sunk three Egyptian torpedo and missile boats, but never returned.
Zvi Ofer, also known as “Tzvika Ofer” or “Zvika Ofer”, is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage during the 1962 Nuqeib operation in Syria.
Ofer’s (1932–1968) parents moved to Eretz Israeli during the Third Aliyah, when the country was under British rule. They were among the founders of the settlement Kfar Azar. Ofer joined the Jewish underground the Haganah when he was a teenager. He initially delivered Haganah newspapers to its subscribers, hung pro-Haganah posters in the middle of the night and oiled the guns belonging to the settlement.
At sixteen, he left school and joined the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Haganah. He fought in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence , and participated in Operation Danny that captured the cities Lod and Ramle. He was sent to officer’s training. In the midst of his training, he learned that his Palmach unit was gearing up for Operation Yoav, an offensive in the Negev region. He left officer’s school to join his unit in time for the offensive.
After the 1948 War of Independence, he returned to civilian life and worked for the national water company Mekorot. In 1952 he was re-enlisted and completed the officer’s school. After graduation, he assembled and commanded a unit that tracked down Arab guerilla infiltrators. Later, he volunteered to the paratroopers’ battalion 890 and partook in many reprisal operations of the 1950s. During Operation Kadesh, Ofer commanded a paratroop platoon that took part in the Battle for the Mitla Pass. Later, forces under his command took part in the taking of the Sharm el-Sheikh military base, thus clearing the way for Israeli shipping to pass through the Gulf of Aqaba, which had hitherto been blocked by Egyptian cannon.
In the early 1960s, he was given a command position within Sayeret Golani and was ordered to reorganize it by the brigade commander Mordechai Gur (later the IDF chief of staff). His unit became known as “The Flying Tiger”. In 1962, Syrian artillery on the Golan Heights bombarded Israeli civilian targets, including fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. The Israel Defense Forces felt that retaliation was warranted and chose a Syrian military target near the village of Nuqeib. Ofer’s unit played a central role in operation Snunit (Swallow) which resulted in the destruction of the chosen targets. During the operation, while his unit was under heavy enemy fire, Ofer took the place of commanders who were injured and charged forward, leading his forces toward the Syrian positions, while firing his machine-gun and throwing grenades. For his actions, he was awarded the Israeli Medal of Valor for his courage in battle.
During the Six-Day War, his battalion was assigned to capturing Bethlehem and Hebron, which fell without a shot. Following the Six-Day War, Ofer was appointed military governor of Hebron and Shechem and was lauded for his performance in those roles.
Ofer wanted to rejoin a combat unit and after a request, was assigned command of the Haruv Reconnaissance Unit. The unit’s primary responsibility was to conduct special reconnaissance and scout along Israel’s border with Jordan in order to combat Arab guerrilla infiltration in the Jordan Valley.
In 1968, Ofer was killed in action in Wadi Qelt, west of Jericho, while in pursuit of militants who had crossed the Jordan river. The Arab guerrillas were on their way to attack civilian targets and the force led by Ofer intercepted them before they could reach their target. Ofer was the sole Israeli fatality in the engagement which also resulted in the killing of two guerrillas and the capture of six others along with a large weapons cache.
Israeli Defense Minister, and the IDF chief of staff were at his funeral. At his graveside, the Commanding Officer of the Central Command, General Rehavam Ze’evi said of Zvi Ofer, “the figure Zvika, the country boy, the youth in the Palmach, the scout, the commander, and the instructor, will remain engraved in our hearts”.
Ofer was married and had four children.
The IDF Camp Ofer and Ofer Prison, founded in December 1968, are named after him.
Ben-Zion Leitner is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor
Ben-Zion Leitner ( 1927 – 2012) led an assault that resulted in the blowing up of a bunker at a police position in Iraq Suweidan which resulted in half of his face becoming paralysed. He was a native of Odessa.
Efraim Effi Eitam
Efraim Eitam is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Eitam was drafted into the IDF in 1971, and volunteered for the Shayetet 13 naval commando force, but was dismissed after a year, and did his military service in the Golani Brigade. He was sent to Officer Candidate School and in 1973 was commissioned as a an infantry officer and return to the Golani Brigade. During the Yom Kippur War he served as a platoon Leader in the Brigade’s 12 battalion and fought with his sergeant to stop Syrian tanks from penetrating the Golan Heights’s Nafah base, using 3 Bazooka bombs and a heavy machine gun, and later rescued the wounded from Nafah. For his heroism He has earned Israel’s Medal of Distinguished Service. Later on Eitam led the Brigade’s Reconnaissance company during Operation Entebbe. Afterwords he commanded Golani Brigade’s 12 battalion in counter-guerrilla operations in South Lebanon and during the 1982 Lebanon War he led an officers’ school battalion and a brigade. During the first Intifada, he commanded the Givati Brigade. In 1988, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered the Israeli Army to beat Palestinian rioters. Eitam was heard over a radio telling his troops to beat and break the bones of a 21-year-old Palestinian prisoner named Ayyad Aqel. They beat him to death. An IDF court-martial convicted four of his soldiers, who testified against him. The Military Advocate General severely reprimanded Eitam, and recommended that he never be promoted. Despite that the IDF’s Chief of General Staff, Ehud Barak, decided to promote him to the rank of Brigadier General. During the years 1997-1999 he commanded the 91st Division in counter-guerrilla operations in South Lebanon. He quit the Army in December 2000.
After his retirement from military service, Eitam entered politics, joining the National Religious Party. Despite not being a member of the Knesset, he was appointed a Minister without Portfolio on 8 April 2002, serving until 18 September that year, when he became Minister of National Infrastructure.
In 2002, Eitam called for Yasser Arafat to be killed. Of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, then being investigated by Israel, he said, “Take him out to an orchard and shoot him in the head.” He was first elected to the Knesset in January 2003, and was appointed Minister of Housing and Construction in March 2003.
Zvi Zibel is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Zvi (1925–1948), son of Sarah and Abraham, was born in Tel Aviv and at a young age was sent to study at the Ben Shemen Youth Village. He was later accepted to the agricultural school in Givat HaShlosha. In his youth he learned to play piano, guitar and the flute.
At the age of 18, Zibel joined the ranks of the Palmach and participated in the attack on the British police in Sarona and the absorption of the Wingate. During this period, he was arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem. Zvi was trained as an aviator on the brink of the 1948 War.
On the flight to Ben Shemen, besieged on June 25th, 1948, he landed his plane for the supply of ammunition. After landing the aircraft in the area, he worked under heavy fire to protect the aircraft from bullet wounds and to enable his return by driving a tractor loaded with sandbags to serve as a defensive wall. For this he was awarded, after his death, the Hero of Israel award.
In the fierce battles over Gush Etzion he participated in bombing and shooting a Bren from the air. In these operations he was hit and wounded by gunfire, but continued to fight. At the end of the campaign he was chosen as a commander of an aviation base and then spent a few months training in Czechoslovakia. A week after his return, he participated in Operation Horev, during which he toured the Nitzana area and lowered the altitude of a flight to help another plane. At this stage he was hit by four Egyptian fighter jets and killed with his flight partner.
Yonatan Netanyahu is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Yonatan Netanyahu was born in New York City, the eldest son of Zila (née Segal; 1912–2000) and Benzion Netanyahu (1910–2012), a professor emeritus of history at Cornell University. He was named after his paternal grandfather, rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky, and Colonel John Henry Patterson, who formerly commanded the Jewish Legion and attended his circumcision. His two brothers are Benjamin and Iddo. Benjamin (nicknamed “Bibi”) was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1996, in 2009 and reelected in both 2013 and 2015. Iddo, the youngest of the three, is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in Sayeret Matkal.
After graduating high school, Netanyahu joined the Israeli Defense Forces in 1964. He volunteered to serve in the Paratroopers Brigade, and excelled in the Officer Training Course. He was eventually given command of a paratroopers company.
In 1967 he considered college, but the constant threat of war made him stay in Israel: “This is my country and my homeland. It is here that I belong,” he wrote. On June 5, 1967, during the Six Day War, his battalion fought the battle of Um Katef in Sinai, then reinforced the Golan Heights battle. During the Golan Heights battle, he was wounded while helping rescue a fellow soldier who lay wounded deep behind enemy lines. He was decorated for valor after that war.
After being wounded, he returned to the U.S. to study at Harvard. But after a year he felt the need to return to Israel to rejoin the army. “At this time,” he wrote in a letter, “I should be defending my country. Harvard is a luxury I cannot afford.” He next returned to Harvard in the summer of 1973, but again gave up academic life for Israel’s military.
By 1970 he was leading an anti-terrorist reconnaissance unit, Sayeret Matkal (Israeli special forces), and in the summer of 1972 was appointed as the unit’s deputy commander. That year he commanded a raid Operation Crate 3 in which senior Syrian officers were captured as a bargaining chip to be later exchanged in return for captive Israeli pilots. The following year he participated in Operation Spring of Youth, in which the alleged terrorists and leadership of Black September were selectively killed by Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet-13 and the Mossad.
During the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Netanyahu commanded a Sayeret Matkal force in the Golan Heights that killed more than 40 Syrian commandos in a battle which thwarted the Syrian commandos’ raid in the Golan’s heartland. During the same war, he also rescued Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hanan from Tel Shams, while Ben Hanan was lying wounded behind Syrian lines.
Following the war, Netanyahu was awarded Medal of Distinguished Service , for his rescue of Ben Hanan. Netanyahu then volunteered to serve as an armor commander, due to the heavy casualties inflicted on the Israeli Armored Corps during the war, with a disproportionate number of these in the officer ranks. Netanyahu excelled in Tank Officers course, and was given command of the Barak Armored Brigade, which had been shattered during the war. Netanyahu turned his brigade into the leading military unit in the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu was killed in action on July 4, 1976, while commanding the rescue mission during Operation Entebbe. He was the only Israeli soldier killed during the raid (along with three hostages, all of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine members, and dozens of Ugandan soldiers). Netanyahu was shot outside the building being stormed, and would soon die in the arms of Efraim Sneh, commander of the mission’s medical unit. The operation itself was considered a success by Israel, and was renamed as Mivtsa Yonatan (“Operation Jonathan” in U.S.) in his honor.
Netanyahu was buried in Jerusalem’s Military Cemetery at Mount Herzl on July 6 following a military funeral attended by enormous crowds and top-ranking officials. Shimon Peres, then Defense Minister, said during the eulogy that “a bullet had torn the young heart of one of Israel’s finest sons, one of its most courageous warriors, one of its most promising commanders – the magnificent Yonatan Netanyahu.”
Yohai Ben-Nun is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Yohai Ben-Nun (Hebrew: יוחאי בן-נון; 1924 – 1994) was the sixth commander of the Israeli Navy.
Yohai Ben-Nun was born in Haifa and raised in Jerusalem. His parents were members of the First Aliyah. Ben-Nun joined the Palmach in 1941 and spent three years training and eventually rising to the rank of a squad leader. In 1944, he joined the Pal-Yam, the sea corps of the Palmach. In a covert operation in 1945, he sank two British Royal Navy ships.
At the outbreak of the Independence War, he founded Shayetet 13, the Israeli naval commando unit. He commanded a force which sank the Egyptian Navy flagship, the Emir Farouk, in the Israeli naval campaign in Operation Yoav, for which he was awarded the Hero of Israel decoration. When it was replaced by the Medal of Valor, he was automatically awarded the newer medal.
Ben-Nun volunteered for an extremely risky mission. He was to ride an explosive boat (similar to an Italian MTM one) and aim it at the Egyptian sloop. Because the Egyptians would spot the boat and maneuver to avoid it, it had been decided that it would be guided by a volunteer sitting astride it. The volunteer would jump off at the very last moment- just 50–100 meters from the target. Even if Egyptian searchlights spotted the e-boat, it would be too late. Yohai and the boat were maneuvered as close as possible by rowboat before the e-boat was launched with Ben-Nun astride. His comrades began to row away after the explosion, but then they heard a voice and Ben-Nun appeared. Once on board the rowboat, he explained that the Egyptian searchlights had turned dark just as he got near enough to aim his boat and leap off.
Ben-Nun continued to serve in the Israeli Navy after the war. In the Sinai War, he served as the commander of the INS Yafo, taking part in the capture of an Egyptian destroyer. After the war, he returned to command Shayetet 13.
Ben-Nun was appointed the commander of the Israeli Navy in 1960, a position he used to create a larger fleet with a better attack capability.
Although he retired in 1966, during the Six-Day War Ben-Nun volunteered for service and fought in the naval operations and on the Golan Heights.
Giora “Hawkeye” Epstein
Giora Epstein is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Colonel Giora “Hawkeye” Epstein is a retired colonel in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and a fighter ace credited with 17 victories, 16 against Egyptian jets, making Epstein the ace of aces of supersonic fighter jets and of the Israeli Air Force. Epstein was an active IAF pilot from 1963 until 1997, when he retired at age 59. He, like many retired IAF flyers, later worked as captain for Airlines.
Epstein joined the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in 1956 during the Suez War. He was initially rejected from flight school because of a heart condition and began his military career as a paratrooper. While traveling with the IDF’s parachute demonstration team, Epstein changed his last name to Even (“stone” in Hebrew). He left the IDF in 1959 before returning two years later to again apply for flight school.
After gaining medical clearance (mostly through his own stubbornness), Epstein began fighter training. He soon gained the nickname “Hawkeye” due to his extraordinary eyesight. Epstein was allegedly able to spot aircraft at a distance of 24 miles (44 km) — nearly three times further than a normal pilot.
Epstein’s first kill came on June 6, 1967 during the Six-Day War, when he downed an Egyptian Sukhoi-7 at El Arish. During the War of Attrition in 1969–70, Epstein downed a MiG-17, another Sukhoi-7 and two MiG 21s. The rest of his kills came during 1973’s Yom Kippur War. Between October 18 and 20, 1973, he downed an Mi-8 helicopter and eight jets: two Sukhoi-7s, two Sukhoi-20s and four MiG 21s. Then, on October 24, 1973, Epstein downed three more MiG-21s west of the Great Bitter Lake. Eight of these victories were with the French-built Mirage III, a delta wing fighter designed primarily as a high altitude interceptor. His other nine victories came in an IAI Nesher, an Israeli-built version of the Mirage 5. Five of his claims were downed using air-to-air missiles, the rest with cannon.
After the Yom Kippur War, Epstein received the Medal of Distinguished Service, one of Israel’s highest military honors. He went on to command Mirage and Kfir squadrons and was flying “ready” missions in the F-16 up until his 60th birthday. After retiring from the IAF, Epstein became a captain for El-Al Airlines.
Epstein was the primary subject of the “Desert Aces” episode of The History Channel series Dogfights. The episode first aired on August 10, 2007.
Siman-Tov Ganeh is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Siman-Tov Ganeh (1924–1968) was born in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Georgian-Jewish family, son of a member of the Jewish Battalions and a volunteer in the British army’s Expeditionary Force during the Second World War. When the 1936–1939 Arab revolt broke out, his family was forced to leave the Old City and move to Zikhron Moshe. As a boy he worked in a cigarette factory, and in 1941 his father fell captive in Crete. He also served in the British army, first in the Naval Force and then in the British fleet for three and a half years, during which he served on supply ships. In April 1946, he was discharged and worked as a taxi driver shortly before joining the Lehi underground movement.
Ganeh joined the 8th Brigade at the beginning of the War for Independence and served in the 89th Battalion. In November 1948, he participated in the Battle of Iraq Suwaydan, in which he continued to treat the wounded and respond to the shooting while mortally wounded and under heavy fire. For his part in the operation, he was awarded the Hero of Israel medal.
After the battle, Siman-Tov’s two legs were cut off and replaced with prosthetic legs. Following the war he studied carpentry and worked for awhile as a taxi driver. He got married in 1950 and was a father of three. His middle son was named Ma’agan, after being born on the day Ganeh was saved from the Ma’agan disaster which he had witnessed. During the Six-Day War he volunteered to gather soldiers from transportation stations. In 1967, he began to work as a contractor in military camps. In March 1968, he was hit by an old shell that was ignited from the heat and was killed. After his death, mourning orders were held in IDF units.
Ehud Barak is the recipient of the Israeli Medal of Distinguished Service.
Ehud Barak, born Ehud Brog; served as the tenth Prime Minister from 1999 to 2001. He was leader of the Labor Party until January 2011. He previously held the posts of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s second government from 2009 to 2013.
He is the joint most highly decorated soldier in Israel’s history, having taken part in many battles and combat missions. He is a graduate in physics, mathematics, and economics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stanford University. He served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. Following a highly decorated career, he was appointed Chief of General Staff in 1991, serving until 1995. On 26 November 2012 he announced that he would retire from politics after the next election in January 2013.
Barak joined the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.) in 1959. He served in the IDF for 35 years, rising to the position of Chief of the General Staff and the rank of Rav Aluf (Lieutenant-General), the highest in the Israeli military.
During his service as a commando in the elite Sayeret Matkal, Barak led several highly acclaimed operations, such as: “Operation Isotope”, the mission to free the hostages on board the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 at Lod Airport in 1972; the covert 1973 Israeli raid on Lebanon in Beirut, in which he was disguised as a woman to kill members of the Palestine Liberation Organization; Barak was also a key architect of the June 1976 Operation Entebbe, another rescue mission to free the hostages of the Air France aircraft hijacked by terrorists and forced to land at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. These highly acclaimed operations, along with Operation Bayonet, led to the dismantling of Palestinian terrorist cell Black September. It has been alluded that Barak also masterminded the Tunis Raid on 16 April 1988, in which PLO leader Abu Jihad was killed.
During the Yom Kippur War, Barak commanded an improvised regiment of tanks which, among other things, helped rescue paratrooper battalion 890, commanded by Yitzhak Mordechai, which was suffering heavy losses in the Battle of the Chinese Farm. He went on the command the 401st armored brigade and the 611st “Pillar of Fire” and 252nd “Sinai” divisions, before his appointment to head the IDF’s Planning Directorate. Barak later served as head of Aman, the Military Intelligence Directorate (1983–85), head of Central Command (1986–87) and Deputy Chief of the General Staff (1987–91). He served as Chief of the General Staff between 1 April 1991 and 1 January 1995. During this period he implemented the first Oslo Accords and participated in the negotiations towards the Israel–Jordan peace treaty.
Barak was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service and four Chief of Staff citations (Tzalash HaRamatkal) for courage and operational excellence. These five decorations make him the most decorated soldier in Israeli history (jointly with close friend Nechemya Cohen and Major Amitai Hason). In 1992 he was awarded the Legion of Merit (Commander) by the United States. In 2012, he was again awarded by the United States with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
Arieh Atzmoni is the receipiant of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Arieh Atzmoni (1926–2005)
was born Leib Markowicz in Uzhhorod (then in Czechoslovakia, now in Ukraine). During World War II, when he was 13, he left his parents home and lived alone in Budapest. During the Holocaust, his mother and two younger sisters were murdered, while his father, brother and older sister were saved. Later, he was taken to a labor camp in Yugoslavia and worked in copper mining until he was liberated by local partisans, whom he joined in fighting the Germans until his immigration to Eretz Israel in 1944 at age 18.
He was held in the Atlit detainee camp before joining the Jewish Brigade and serving in Egypt and Italy. At the end of his service in Europe, he joined the Jewish Settlement Police and dealt with Naharayim. Following an Arab Legion attack, he retreated with the guards and reached the nearby base of the 12th Battalion of the Golani Brigade. He joined the ranks of the brigade and after a sergeant course was stationed as a company sergeant and served in this position during the War of Independence. In September 1948 he cleared a fire-focused ammunition box during battle and received a commendation from the brigade commander. For this he was awarded the Hero of Israel:
“On January 4, 1949, in the battle for the cemetery in Rafah, our artillery car was stopped in the field and the entire sector was concealed in front of our cannon position. The enemy, which attacked tanks and armored vehicles accompanied by infantry, rained fire on the outpost and prevented any action to remove the car from the area. Lt. Col. Arieh Otzmany, whose job was to bring ammunition and digging equipment to the outpost, jumped at the car, managed to start it, and drove it from the front to the rear, enabling our anti-tank cannon to launch an operation that resulted in the use of nine tanks and other enemy vehicles.”
Zevulun Orlev is the receipiant of the Israel Defense Forces Medal of Courage.
Orlev is a former Knesset member, Minister of Welfare & Social Services and leader of the National Religious Party. Orlev is a decorated war hero who received the Medal of Distinguished Service in the Yom Kippur War.
During his national service in the Israel Defense Forces, he reached the rank of Sergeant. Orlev fought in the Six-Day War, participating in the capture of East Jerusalem. He sustained a knee injury and underwent rehabilitation for two years. During the Yom Kippur War, Orlev served in a stronghold on the Bar-Lev Line. During the Egyptian attack on the first day of the war, Orlev took charge of the soldiers in his outpost after the commander was wounded. Under his command, his unit repelled Egyptian attempts to capture the position, and he organized the evacuation from the stronghold. For this, he was awarded a Medal of Distinguished Service. He later served as a reservist during the 1982 Lebanon War.
Amihai “Ami” Ayalon
Ami Ayalon is the receipiant of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Ami Ayalon (born 27 June 1945) was born in Tiberias, and grew up in kibbutz Ma’agan. His parents moved to Eretz Israel in the 1930s. His mother came as a young girl to study in Jerusalem; his father, Yitzhak, emigrated illegally (from the perspective of the occupying British forces) from Romania, and was one of the founders of Ma’agan, where he worked until retirement as a carpenter.
Ayalon served his entire military service in the Israeli Navy. Ayalon enlisted in 1963 and volunteered for the Shayetet 13 navy commando unit. In 1969, he participated in Operation Bulmus 6—the assault on fortified Green Island, Egypt (jointly with Sayeret Matkal). During the operation, he threw a grenade into one of the radar positions, and provided cover for other soldiers in the force. While climbing to the roof, he was hit in the forehead by a ricochet, but continued fighting. He stormed the position from which he was fired upon and injured as a result, killing two Egyptian soldiers and neutralizing the post. After which he continued along with another soldier, and managed to take control of at least two more key positions on the island. While trying to take over the third position, he was injured in the leg by a grenade, kept on fighting, only to be hit by another grenade in the neck and arm. Even so, he continued firing, only reported his injuries when the island was in full control, and was able to evacuate himself into a boat, where he injected himself with morphine. For these actions, Ayalon received the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest decoration.
In 1979, Ayalon was appointed commander of Shayetet 13, and was once again decorated—this time for carrying out a long list of operations without casualties. Ayalon, receiving the rank of major general, served as commander of the Israeli Navy from 1992 through 1996.
Following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Ayalon was “parachuted” into the post of head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service). He retired in 2000.
Ayalon graduated from Bar-Ilan University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1980. In 1992, he received a Master of Public Administrationfrom Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 2010, he received a Master of Studies in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is married, and the father of three.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak is a two time recipient of the Israeli Medal of Courage
After finishing his studies at the military boarding school in Haifa in 1962, he enlisted in the Paratroopers Brigade, and served as soldier and an infantry officer in the 890 battalion of the brigade. In 1965, he became a company commander in the newly established 202nd battalion of the brigade. As a company commander, he participated in reprisal operations preceding the Six Day War. During the war, he served as acting deputy battalion commander. After the war, he took command of the Duchifat unit (Sayeret) of the brigade and participated in Operation Inferno, where he was awarded the Medal of Courage for “his leadership and courage under fire.”
After graduating from the Command and General Staff School in 1971, he was appointed commander of the Nahal Airborne Battalion. Under his command, the battalion took part in many operations, mainly in the area of Lebanon. In April 1973, as a part of Operation Spring of Youth, he assaulted PFLP headquarters in Beirut, and was decorated with a second Medal of Courage for “his leadership in action.” During the Yom Kippur War, he served as deputy commander of the Paratroopers Brigade and fought in the Battle of the Chinese Farm, contained Egyptian forces at Ismailia, and defended the Sinai desert. After the war, he was assigned as the operations officer for Central Command, and was sent to the U.S. Marine’s general staff command course in the United States.
In 1976, Lipkin-Shahak was promoted to Colonel and became head of the reservist Paratroopers Brigade. In 1977, he was appointed the head of the regular Paratroopers Brigade. During this period, the Brigade took part in several operations along all of Israel’s borders, including extensive operations in Lebanon, including taking part in Operation Litani over the border. After finishing his term as commander of the brigade, he was appointed as a commander of a reservist armored division, and in 1982 became commander of the Steel Formation. While serving as the Division’s commander, he served as the commander of the Beirut region after the First Lebanon War.
In 1983, Lipkin-Shahak was appointed the Head of Central Command. From 1986 to 1991 he served as Head of Intelligence, and during those years, among other things, prepared the IDF during the developments that led to the Gulf War. In 1991, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, and during this role served as the commander of Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
On January 1, 1995, he became Chief of Staff of the IDF, succeeding Ehud Barak.
Lipkin-Shahak retired from the IDF in 1998. He was succeeded as Chief of Staff by Shaul Mofaz.
Yuval Neria is the receipiant of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Yuval Neria grew up in Israel, and spent his childhood in the city of Holon with his younger sister, Nurit, and two parents, Zipora and Jacob Neria. At the age of 18, he joined the Israeli army and subsequently participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1982 Lebanon war. In the Yom Kippur War, his performance as a tank commander in the Sinai front (where, in several battles, his tank was hit but he kept fighting, taking command of up to 10 different tanks before being injured and evacuated), earned him the Medal of Valor, the highest decoration for combat bravery in Israel, at the age of 22.
Neria’s political views and body of work were deeply influenced by his war experiences. He was one of the founders of the Israeli grassroots movement “Peace Now,” which sought to facilitate reconciliation between Israel, the Palestinians, and Arab countries. Neria has published a war novel, Fire (Zmora Bitan, 1986) (Esh in Hebrew), based on his painful experiences in the Yom Kippur 1973 War, and was later involved in efforts to improve policies regarding mental health care for returning war veterans and prisoners of war with post trauma psychopathology.
Yuval Neria is a Professor of Medical Psychology at the Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), and Director of Trauma and PTSD Program, and a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) and Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.
Meir Dagan is the receipiant of the Israel Defense Forces Medal of Courage.
Meir Huberman (later Dagan) was born on a train on the outskirts of Kherson, between the Soviet Union and Poland during World War II to Polish Jewish parents who were fleeing Poland for the Soviet Union to escape the Holocaust. His maternal grandfather, Ber Erlich Sloshny, was killed by the Nazis. In 2009, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published two photos of Nazi soldiers standing next to a kneeling Sloshny shortly before they shot him. During his term as Director-General of the Mossad, Dagan kept one of the photographs hanging in his office. Meir and his parents survived the Holocaust, and in 1950, the family made aliyah to Israel. During the ship’s approach to Israel, it encountered a storm, during which Meir stood on the stern, praying to reach the shore safely. The family initially lived in an immigrant camp in Lod before settling in Bat Yam, where Meir grew up and his parents ran a laundry business. Dagan was a vegetarian and an amateur painter, who studied painting and sculpture at Tel Aviv University. He was married to Bina and had three children.
Dagan was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1963. He was considered for the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, but ended up joining the Paratroopers Brigade. He completed his compulsory service in 1966, but was called up as a reservist in 1967, and fought in the Six-Day War as an officer, commanding a paratrooper platoon on the Sinai front. In the early 1970s, he commanded an ad hoc undercover commando unit, known as Sayeret Rimon, whose task was to combat the increasing violence in the Palestinian territories. In 1971, he received a Medal of Courage for tackling a wanted terrorist who was holding a live grenade. Dagan later fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as an officer on the Sinai front, and participated in the crossing of the Suez Canal. During the 1982 Lebanon War, he commanded the Barak Armored Brigade, and was one of the first brigade commanders to enter Beirut. In the 1990s, he held a series of high-level positions in the IDF command, eventually reaching the rank of Major General before retiring from the army in 1995, after 32 years of service.
Dagan later served as a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he initially served as a National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon appointed him Director-General of Mossad in August 2002, replacing outgoing Director Efraim Halevy. As Mossad director, Dagan was responsible for intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counter-terrorism activities outside of Israel and the Palestinian Territories (which are under the jurisdiction of Shabak as they are considered domestic areas). He was allegedly aggressive in ordering killings of terrorists on foreign soil. According to Mossad veteran Gad Shimron, “Israel is in the paradoxical situation of not having a death penalty but allowing itself to target Arab terrorists outside its borders with almost complete impunity. Meir Dagan fully subscribes to this thinking, unlike some of his predecessors”. By November 2004, at least four foreign terrorists had already been killed in suspected Mossad operations, and three major terrorist attacks planned against Israeli civilians abroad had been foiled.
Ehud Yatom, a member of the Knesset Subcommittee on Secret Services, stated that “as someone who is privy to the facts but not at liberty to divulge them, I can say this with complete authority. The Mossad under Meir Dagan has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence and operations.” Under Dagan’s watch, Mossad tripled its recruitment efforts, launching a website where people can apply to join. Reportedly, much of its annual budget of $350 million was diverted from traditional intelligence gathering and analysis to field operations and “special tasks”.
Dagan was reconfirmed as Mossad director until the end of 2008 by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in February 2007, and in June 2008, Olmert again extended his tenure until the end of 2009.
In mid-2007, Dagan had a “spat” with the Deputy Director N, who was thought to be a candidate for replacing Dagan in late 2008. Dagan restored his former deputy T to the post and Dagan was thought likely to recommend T as his replacement.
He was re-appointed in 2009 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve until the end of 2010. In June 2010, a report from Channel 2 stated that Netanyahu had denied a request by Dagan for another year as Mossad director, though this was quickly denied by the Prime Minister’s Office. In November 2010, Tamir Pardo was announced as his replacement.
Following his departure, Dagan made several controversial public statements concerning the prudence of an Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, openly contradicting the positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He called it a “stupid idea” in a May 2011 conference. After Dagan voiced criticism of the prime minister, he was asked to return his diplomatic passport before its expiry date. Dagan repeated the opinion in a March 2012 interview with Lesley Stahl of CBS News’ 60 Minutes, calling an Israeli attack on Iran before other options were exhausted “the stupidest idea” and saying he considered the Iranians “a very rational regime.”
Avigdor Kahalani is the receipiant of the Israeli Medal of Valor.
Avigdor Kahalani was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1962, and joined the 7th Brigade of the IDF Armored Corps. He started as a regular soldier, but later completed a tank commander’s course with honors. He then completed an officer’s course with honors at Bahad 1, and became a career officer in the IDF. In 1964, he was part of an IDF delegation to West Germany to receive the IDF’s first M48 Patton tanks.
During the Six-Day War, Kahalani commanded a company of Patton tanks from the 79th Battalion. He was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for service during the Six-Day War, where he was badly wounded when his M-48 Patton tank caught fire. When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Kahalani was a 29-year-old lieutenant Colonel and battalion commander. He served as commander of the Centurion-equipped 77th Armored Battalion of the 7th Brigade on the Golan Heights. Kahalani’s battalion – along with other elements of the 7th Armored Brigade – engaged in fierce defensive fighting against a vastly superior Syrian mechanized force, consisting of more than 50,000 men and 1,200 tanks. The battle proved to be one of the turning points of the war. After the war, the valley where it took place was littered with hundreds of destroyed and abandoned Syrian tanks and was renamed “Emek Ha-Bacha” (“The Valley of Tears”). For his actions during the war Kahalani received the highest Israeli military decoration, the Medal of Valor.