20th Anniversary |

At Memorial, Rivlin Warns of Hezbollah Threat to Israel

Israeli leaders address hundreds of bereaved parents attending the annual memorial at Kibbutz Dafna, near the Lebanese border.

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President Rivlin at Kibbutz Dafna in the Galilee marking the 20th anniversary of the helicopter disaster. Feb. 15, 2017Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Hundreds of people attended a ceremony on Wednesday at Kibbutz Dafna in the Galilee marking the 20th anniversary of the helicopter disaster in which 73 soldiers were killed when two choppers collided en route to the security zone in southern Lebanon.

Participants included President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the families of the victims killed in the worst accident in the army's history, on February 4, 1997.

>> 20 years after: The helicopter crash that changed Israel's fight with Hezbollah <<

The site of the 1997 helicopter disaster in southern Lebanon.Credit: Nati Harnik, AP

“Then, as now, Israel faces the challenge of protecting its citizens,” said Rivlin. “In the decade since the Second Lebanon War ended, relative quiet has prevailed along the northern border. In Zaria and Malkia the farmers are working their fields, and the bed-and-breakfasts are full. In Kiryat Shemona and Metulla, a new generation of children has matured that isn’t familiar with the fear of the sirens and the Katyushas or the smell of the bomb shelters.”

He added, “We are not drunk with the calm, nor lulled by the pastoral. We can go from zero to a hundred in seconds. We have not forgotten what a cruel enemy we face. There’s no real quiet when Hezbollah is rearming. There’s no quiet in the aspirations and plans of Hezbollah, an organization supported by Iran, which tries incessantly to harm Israel.”

Lieberman said many of the soldiers he meets weren’t even born when the disaster happened. “I can say with pride that the IDF’s soldiers and commanders continue to cope with all the challenges because they are treading the paths of values paved by your sons,” he said to the bereaved families. “Soldiers from all over the country –Jews, Druze and Bedouin – fell in the disaster and their unity has taught us another thing about the power of togetherness.”

Eisenkot spoke of the challenges posed by Hezbollah and said, “we pledge to stand above all controversy and to unite in the desire for coexistence in a secure country.”

“Only if we work from what unites us and not what differentiates us can we realize the IDF’s mission and to win in war if it’s required of us.”