IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantzwas 14-years-old when the Yom Kippur War broke out. "I remember sitting by the radio, anxiously listening to reports from the frontline," he tells Yedioth Ahronoth in a special holiday interview.
"I remember that it was clear that the Paratroopers' 890th Battalion was part of all of the crucial battles."
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Gantz's military doctrine can be described, to some extent, as a product of the Paratroopers' legendary "Echis" Airborne Battalion. The "890," as it is referred to by its veterans, is where he earned his proverbial stripes and the battalion is famous for sprouting some of Israel's most prominent key figures.
The main lessons from the Yom Kippur War, he says, "Is that we must always be war-ready. We've taken this approach and traslated it into an operational doctrine of readiness and alertness. It is what dictates our daily fight against tenacious threats."
'Troops are counting on us.' Gantz (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The IDF, he continued, "Is also constantly developing its adaptability to changes dictated by the challenges it faces. We can never grow accustomed to any (operational) concept and we must always study given situations further and adapt to regional changes."
Could Israel find itself once more taken by surprise by an enemy army? "We hope not," Gantz said gingerly. "This is why we must continue to cultivate our military superiority and the IDF must always be at the top of its game.
"The IDF, and me as its chief, work tirelessly to ensure that we are not surprised again. That's our job. That's been our mission since the state's inception."
The commander's creed
"Every commander must remember that his troops are counting on him," he says, when asked what IDF officers should remember in general, and especially ahead of Yom Kippur. "Those of us who wear uniforms are obligated to make sure we are never again surprised in such a manner."
Fourteen years after listening to the 890th Battalion exploits on the radio, at the age of 28, Gantz came full circle and assumed command of "Echis": "I felt as if I assumed the responsibility to carry on those heroes' legacy, and to this day, the battalion stays true to that legacy.
"I remember my time in the 890 as the most significant time of my service. Our deployment was always in the most dangerous places – Lebanon and the territories. I don't discount any of my posts," he stressed, "But that time was really something else. I felt like I was carrying on in the path of giants. The 890 is truly iconic in Israel."
The 890th Battalion earned its iconic status by being the military alma mater of prime ministers, Knesset members, legislators and numerous defense establishment chiefs. It is also responsible for a long line of IDF chiefs, including Rafael Eitan, Dan Shomron and Moshe Yaalon to name a few.
With the troops (Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)
The Paratroopers 890th Airborne Battalion was the Israel Air Force's first airborne unit, formed in 1950. In 1954 the battalion was reinforced by the 101 Commando Unit, headed by then-Major Ariel Sharon, who became its commander later that year.
It was Sharon who instilled the "failure is not an option" spirit in the troops and the creed, Gantz said, is still its beacon.
'Nobody does it better'
After taking office, Gantz decided to appoint another 890 veteran – Lieutenant-Colonel Yaki Dolef, who commanded the battalion during Operation Cast Lead, to the post of his military bureau chief.
As the troops were gearing to go into Gaza, he informed them of what he called "one simple fact": "Hamas and all those affiliated with it are about to understand that you don’t mess with the State of Israel. They will never want to see us go in there again. The people here are the best in the world. No one can do this better than us."
That sentiment is echoed by current Paratroopers Brigade Commander Colonel Amir Baram: "The battalion is much stronger today and has more advanced – and lethal – technology at its disposal. But what has remained the same is the spirit. Failure is still not an option. This legacy is 60 years old and every soldier knows it," he continued.
"Every soldier knows that he's serving in the first ever airborne battalion in the IDF, the one that prime ministers, defense ministers and chiefs of staff come from. And every generation surpasses its predecessors. Our legacy demands it."
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