A Killing From the War

12:00 noon, July 12, 2006, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz issues a Sell recommendation on Israel, and takes care of his NIS 120,000 sitting at Bank Leumi.

What is the top soldier thinking of, as a million Israelis prepare for one of the toughest months they have known, instead of a tranquil summer vacation? Three hours after hell begins for two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah forces, as he sees that Israel is headed for yet another war in Lebanon (and not a very successful one, apparently), what is he thinking about? We don't know. We do know that he called the manager of his branch in central Tel Aviv and sold his private portfolio, Yehuda Sharoni of Maariv reported today.

But we can hazard a guess at the thoughts of Halutz three hours after two soldiers were seized, and four already lay dead, and another four were defined as missing after their tank blew up in Lebanese territory.

The parents of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev did not know yet about the fate of their sons. The government had not yet been advised of the developments. The residents of the north were already starting to feel the hand of Hizbullah, but had no idea what horrors awaited them. Foreign banks that had put billions into Israel were scrabbling about for points of light in the country's economic robustness.

And the brand new chief of staff was thinking how to make a little killing from the big war he was planning for us.

The chief of staff knew what he was about. That day, the day Goldwasser and Regev were snatched, Israeli stocks retreated by 4.2%. The next day it lost another 4.2% and it dropped 4.5% the day after that.

Yet afterwards, suddenly the trend changed and stocks clawed back some ground. (Could if be that on that day, our speculating chief of staff decided to get back into the market?)

But we can break down the events of that first fateful day.

09:00, three hours before the great portfolio sale: Kidnap.

An army force is taken by surprise. Two armored Hummer vehicles are routinely patrolling Israel's border with Lebanon. As they pass between Zar'it and Shetulla, they are attacked.

A team of terrorists had blown a hole in the border barriers and infiltrated Israel. A special Hizbullah unit had exploited a "blind area" in the army's monitoring, which it had identified in advance, and got through the border without the army realizing a thing. They waited, shielded by bushes, for the force to pass, and pounced, 200 meters inside Israeli territory. Using bombs and anti-tank rockets, they slammed the Hummers, which were devastated. Three soldiers were killed in the first wave of fire, another was critically injured and yet another only mildly so. The Hizbullah guerrillas kidnapped Goldwasser and Regev, dragging them into Lebanese territory, where a getaway car waited, as had been meticulously planned in advance.

The soldiers did not have a chance to return fire. Communications with the Hummers was broken off. Meanwhile, to distract attention from its mission, Hizbullah commenced a barrage of Katyusha attacks on Israeli towns and army bases west of the border. Five civilians were injured and many more went into shock.

A rescue team was summoned. When it arrived at the scene, half an hour after the kidnapping, they found the two Hummers. The commander immediately realized that two soldiers were missing, and the Northern command declared a "Hannibal" state of emergency, which is the standard for an abduction scenario.

Israeli forces immediately went into Lebanon: time is of the essence in such cases. Armored vehicles and tanks rolled in, but they were too late.

11:00, an hour before the portfolio sale. A tank rolls onto a land mine.

Two hours after the incident began, the second deadly event unfolds. A Merkava Mark 2 tank with four soldiers on board rolls over a massive 300 kg land mine and explodes, to meters north of the border. The crew is declared missing.

12:00 The portfolio is sold. In Lebanon, bodies start to pile up.

Israeli soldiers fight fiercely to rescue the shattered tank and the bodies of the crew. Dust- and sweat-streaked armored forces and foot soldiers claw their way to the bloodied remains of the tank against fierce enemy fire.

15:00. Three hours after the sale.

Several soldiers are injured during the rescue mission. A Nahal soldier is killed and two others are mildly hurt. In reaction, the Israeli army attacks dozens of targets deep inside Lebanon, some in the nation's center and some in its north, too. Israeli pilots bomb Hizbullah offices and outposts, and some bridges too. The aerial attacks cause much damage and Lebanon reports casualties. But at least one thing is safe.