Becoming a hero – Getting to know Emmanuel Moreno 

In the graduation ceremony of his team, the commander of Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s elite special forces unit, said on him that Israel didn’t have such a warrior since Bar Kokhba (Kosiba), the legendary leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in  132 CE.

“The operations Morano was involved in were so secretive and sophisticated that even today, four years after his death, censors ban the publication of his photographs. Hence, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Moreno is believed to be the only soldier in IDF history whose photo cannot be published even posthumously.

The elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit engages in the most sensitive, complex IDF activities; Moreno’s squad was tasked with the most sensitive, complex activities within the unit, and within this squad, “Moreno was the best,” his comrades say. ‘Emmanuel led highly complex operational activity, among the most important carried out by the IDF,’ the unit commander says. ‘Their contribution to national security is significant. The challenges he faced during his service required rare professional abilities, focus and sharpness, and exceptional personal responsibility.’” – ynetcom

Most of us did not know anything about Emmanuel Moreno until after his death. He was the last IDF soldier killed in the 2nd Lebanon war in 2006.  Yet, we can still learn who he was through the people who knew him. One of them is Naftali Bennett (1); his teammate in the army.

Emmanuel Moreno was a special person. The two videos shown below are versions of stories about him, shared by Benet. The Hebrew version is longer and more detailed so I translated most of it for the benefit of the non-Hebrew speakers.  Please except my apologies for minor translation errors due to my limited translation abilities.

We can’t see his picture. We can’t learn what he did for Am Israel. I hope that this article will help us to get to know him better as a human being; his personality, his attitude, and his motivation. Emmanuel represents the best of Israel. He deserves to be remembered even if we will never know what exactly he did to earn such respect from his teammates and his commanders.

(Start of translation)

“Emmanuel and I joined the army on the same day. We served together. We trained together in Sayeret Matkal. Emmanuel was the last soldier to be killed in the 2nd Lebanon war.

On Saturday eve, after the war ended, a Sayeret Matkal force flew on a mission deep in Lebanon. The mission was successful. It contributed a lot to Israel’s security. On the way back, the motorized convoy was ambushed by Hezbollah fighters. Emmanuel was hit and few minutes later died. Emmanuel is the only IDF soldier in history that his picture is  not shown after his death for security and secrecy reasons.  Releasing this information can jeopardize operations that he did.

When we started the training,  Emmanuel was not in the best physical shape compared to the rest of the team. He was in the bottom third. He wasn’t the fastest runner. He was not the stronger. In navigation he was in the bottom half. He wasn’t a natural navigator; there are some who were born with the talent to look at a map, memorize it in two minutes, and then walk forty kilometer to the destination in the dark without a map. Emmanuel wasn’t one of those people. He was an average shooter.There are some soldiers that look like Greek gods, he didn’t look like that. He had the most ordinary look, just like you and me.

He was ordinary. However, in two years, he became one of the IDF’s greatest warriors of the last generation.

To put it in perspective, in the end of the two years of the training period, which is very difficult, one or two soldiers of the team are selected to  a Sayeret (an elite unit) within the Sayert. We all wanted to be selected, however, only Emmanuel  was chosen. Even in the inner top group, over time, he climbed to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, equal in rank of the unit’s commander.

He led many daring operations, which unfortunately I’m not allowed to disclose. The only operation that I can mention is the kidnapping of Mustafa Dirani (2)  He received a medal and he achieved unbelievable military achomplishments.

How could it be that such an ordinary person become such a great warrior?

The answer is that he always worked on becoming better. He always challenged himself. He never let himself just get by on anything. The almighty did not bless him with unbelievable talent. He started like everyone else. He worked harder and devoted himself more than anyone else. He kept telling himself, “I’m not good enough. How can I improve?” He gave the extra effort and as a result of it he passed all of us.

There are many difficult weeks in training. However the core of the training is navigation. For the simple reason that to accomplish the mission one must first reach the target. We navigated week, after week, after week, in the Galilee, in the South, in Judea and Samaria, and in the Eilat mountains. It was a nightmare.

On navigation weeks we arrived from home on Sunday morning, studied the map all day, and began a forty kilometer navigation challenge that same evening. The plan was to complete the exercise by 5:00 am the next morning. However, in reality, due to navigation mistakes, it was more like 11:00 am when we finally finished it. As soon as we returned, we had to get ready for the next navigation exercise that same evening. In those few hours, we had to learn the next route, eat, and sleep. After few days of getting back later and later, we barely had any time to study the map for the next exercise, to eat, and also sleep. It was very hard.

This was the difference between Emanuel and rest of us: when I finished one navigation exercise, I shifted my attention to the next one. Emmanuel first step was to spend time studying his mistakes from the previous exercise so he could learn from them and not repeat them again. We used to tell Emanuel to drop it and focus on the new exercise in the few hours we had until it started. He refused; saying that he joined the unit to learn, to become better, not just to advance to the next phase as fast as he could. He kept challenging himself to become better.

We were taught self defense. We trained in pairs. Most of us did not hit our partners as hard as we could and they did the same to us. However, if you were Emmanuel’s partner, he would hit you hard because he wanted to get the most out of the training. He understood that we had to be the best warriors and to get there we must train as hard as we can.

Years later when he was already an officer he participated in an operation, in which there was a situation when he decided not to pull the trigger. Keeping the noise level down saved an operation which contributed a lot to Israel’s defense. Everyone congratulated Emmanuel for his strong nerves. Emmanuel, however,  kept questioning himself if it wasn’t a mistake. This was Emmanuel.

I grew up on the stories of Yoni Netanyahu. Yonni was a completely different story; Yoni excelled in school, he excelled as a paratrooper, he was ranked number one in his company in officers’ school. He excelled in Harvard university. He excelled everywhere he went. You could say he was a superman. We could accept it that we will never get to his level. This is the difference between the two; Emmanuel wasn’t a superman. He was just like any one of us. The only difference was his commitment and dedication. We all can get there too.This is something that is up to us.

The second thing that characterized Emmanuel was his complete devotion to Am Israel (the Jewish people): He always put the interests of Am Israel ahead of his. In the army, he acquired skills which he could have used to make a lot of money in the civilian market, but this never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t important to him.

An example of a minor event says a lot about who Emmanuel was: We were in a navigation exercise in the North. We were so tired; we couldn’t tell one day from the other, or nights from days. In one of the breaks  we rested against trees, trying to get some sleep and learn the map for the next exercise. We had to prepare our own food, but we were all tired so we leaned against the trees, hoping that someone else will make the meal. It was Emmanuel who got up and began preparing the food for the team. He didn’t say a word. One by one we got up and joined him. We had the meal ready in no time.

Emmanuel had a sense of humor: in one of the more difficult navigation exercises in the desert in the Eilat mountains, during a day exercise, we were allowed to wear short pants. Our instructor told us that the navigation endpoint was a natural pool, and that we were allowed to jump into the water, one at the time. It was a hot day.  We talked about that pool the entire exercise; we were excited. When we finally got there we found out that we were tricked; there was no water, just rocks and a lone palm tree.  When Emmanuel saw it, he said; ‘I don’t care. We got permission to swim and I’m swimming.’ He took off his gear, jumped between the rocks, and pretended to be swimming.”

(end of translation)

(1) Naftali Bennett was an officer in Sayret Matkal, who later became a hi-tech millionaire and the leader of the political party Bait Yehudi (Jewish Home). He is currently serving as a minister in Netanyahu’s government.

(2)  Mustafa Dirani was a member and held position of “the head of security” of the Amal movement in Lebanon associated with Syria. In 1987 he started contacts with pro-Iran sources, and eventually he created contacts between them and the rest of the leadership of Amal. Mustafa Dirani was abducted from his home in Lebanon by Israeli commandos on the day of the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha. Israel believed that Dirani had exclusive knowledge to the whereabouts of Israel Air Force pilot Ron Arad, who was captured by Dirani’s armed men in 1986, and has been unheard of since then. During his interrogation by military officers, Dirani reportedly disclosed that Arad had been turned over first to a Hezbollah militia unit and then to Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were in Lebanon at the time aiding Hezbollah guerrillas.

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