Elie was home this weekend – nice, quiet, relaxing. Good food, lots of talk. Easy times. More and more often, he refers to the last few months of his army service. The army is offering him a computer course and he’s among the next group to go in. In the next few weeks, the army will take Elie and a group of soldiers who are finishing soon on a fun vacation – a few days hiking and relaxing. All signs that we are getting near the end of this phase in his service. I have yet to deal with the concept that the end is not the end, that for decades after Elie finishes in the standing army, he will be called back each year to be part of the national reserves.
Tomorrow, Elie and some of the commanders have asked for a day off. They have made tentative plans to have a barbecue on the shores of the Yarkon River…if his unit isn’t on the next rotation for alert. Elie is awaiting word. He’ll borrow my car, take our barbecue. I have hamburgers and marshmellows in the freezer. Brownies in a container on the counter.
He is philosophical about going or not going. He’d like to go; he accepts that the decision is not his and that at any point in the next hour or so, he’ll get a call that will send him west tomorrow – or back up north. If he goes up north, it is because his unit will become the designated one “on alert.”
This is another part of reality in Israel. Even as they train, they are on alert. If Syria attacks (no, thankfully there are no signs that it will), a unit must be prepared to respond instantaneously. Other units will quickly scramble but while their response is measured in hours, the unit on alert is measured in minutes. Last week, it was another artillery unit; this coming week, it might be Elie’s unit.
The first minutes of a battle, especially with Syria, are critical. Syria has no staying power in battle – only a massive amount of hardware it can launch at Israeli towns and villages of the north within minutes. Its army is not well trained; its soldiers not well disciplined. They’ll fight, they’ll kill, they’ll die. Their success is in how many they can kill in the moments before Israel responds.
Our soldiers are well trained and disciplined to fight but more, they are disciplined to live. The response must come quickly to stop any assault and Elie’s unit may be next on call. If so, there will be no barbecue tomorrow on the shores of the Yarkon River, miles and miles from army and artillery.