Battalion 51: The Rottweiler of the IDF

Yuval Yoaz
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Yuval Yoaz

If there is one battalion in the Israel Defense Forces with a multitude of stories about heroic battles and a tradition of soldiers who die in battle, then Battalion 51 of the Golani Brigade is that battalion. Yesterday?s tough fight in Bint Jbail was not the first one in which members of this mythological battalion bled on Lebanese soil. Even the six years of quiet on the northern front did not end the stories about the battalion?s battles: These battles continued on other fronts, above all in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, which took place in West Bank cities.

Battalion 51, known for its lack of military decorum ? cries of ?Atten-shun!? and saluting to superior officers have never been its soldiers? strong point ? played a major role in holding down the oft-attacked Security Zone in southern Lebanon from 1985 until Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. Nine of its soldiers were killed in two incidents that occurred within three days of each other in 1995.

In the first incident, three soldiers were killed when Hezbollah launched an assault on a Golani convoy on its way to Marjayoun, on the northern border of the Security Zone?s eastern sector. Hezbollah detonated three roadside bombs against the convoy vehicles before raining heavy artillery fire on the forces.

In the second incident, six soldiers were killed when their armored personnel carrier drove over an explosive device planted by Hezbollah members.

In 1997, five Golani soldiers were killed by a massive brush fire that was ignited by a battle in Wadi Saluki in south Lebanon. The battle began when Amal militia members ambushed an IDF force. The soldiers fired artillery to prevent the gunment from fleeing the theater, but the shells started a fire that quickly overwhelmed them.

During Operation Defensive Shield, Golani fought in Jenin, Tul Karm, Ramallah, Jenin again, and then Hebron, losing five soldiers from Battalion 51?s backup company one night before 13 reservists were killed in battles in the Jenin refugee camp. The battalion lost a total of seven soldiers during the operation. When then commander of the Golani Brigade Moshe ?(Chico?) Tamir visited the company?s reconnaissance platoon, which lost four soldiers, its members had two requests: ?Sir,? they said, ?first, don?t you dare move us out of here until the fighting is over. Apart from that, can you get us some cigarettes??

Tamir spoke about the gap between the professionalism of Golani?s soldiers in battle and the frequent disciplinary infractions that they have been involved in at other times, including the ?soldier?s revolt? and hazing incidents. It comes as no surprise that Golani is traditionally at the bottom of the military discipline ratings issued by the Military Police.

?Golani is like a Rottweiler,? Tamir said. ?It?s not easy to keep a Rottweiler at home: It scratches the walls and soils the rugs. But if someone tries to break into your home, you?d much rather have a Rottweiler than a poodle there.? t

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