- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

ELYAKIM, Israel — Gavriel Yogev had come home Saturday morning from a night of partying in a Tel Aviv nightclub when the Israeli infantry reservist got the emergency call-up for the Lebanon war.

Within two hours, he had a duffel bag packed and was en route to a training camp near this northern Israeli village to the southeast of Haifa.

“I was still buzzed — drunk — when I got here,” he said just minutes before a boarding a bus destined for the Lebanese border.

For the first time in a generation, thousands of Israeli reservists such as Mr. Yogev are getting emergency conscriptions to join a full-scale war. That point was driven home Sunday when 12 reservists were killed by a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket that fell near a reservist base.

A hush fell over soldiers at this base when a radio announcer read off the names of the fatalities of the attack, bringing the danger of their mission into sharp focus. But 24-year-old soldiers such as Mr. Yogev can brush it off.

“It annoys me,” he said, dabbing some hummus off his goatee. “But we’re not getting upset about this.”

Reserve duty is an institution in a country that has fought six wars in as many decades of existence. Reservists, known as miluimnikim, helped win past conflicts after regular forces were battered on the front lines.

For about one month each year, Israeli men leave their business suits and children behind, put on combat boots and rumpled olive-green uniforms for a reunion with platoon buddies. It is a ritual that cuts across Israel’s complicated socioeconomic and ethnic mosaic, making brothers in arms out of otherwise strangers.

But now the 1,500 soldiers at Elyakim are getting a three-day crash training course before shipping off to the combat zone in southern Lebanon against Hezbollah. To calm wives and parents back home, reservists fudge the details about their missions.

“You just lie,” said Yoni Shusman, a 32-year-old programmer as he cuts out the elastic from a pair of underwear to fashion mesh camouflage around his helmet.

Reservists have complained of outdated equipment, and Mr. Yogev whined about being issued a long-version M-16 instead of the more compact model that he used during his compulsory service.

As soldiers relax on foam mattresses in crowded tent dorms, the hammering of gunshots can be heard ringing out amid the hills surrounding the base. For now, it’s just training, said one reservist.

Unlike most soldiers at Elyakim, Mr. Yogev doesn’t need a much of a refresher because he’s only had a two-month interlude between the end of three-year compulsory service.

“To go into Lebanon is new. It’s like being blind,” said Lior Chargo, who has no illusions about what awaits him. “There will be no victories. In war, everyone loses.”

Although officers and politicians have suggested that Israeli forces might drive 24 miles into Lebanon to the Litani River, the pair of reservists say they don’t want to get stuck there. Still, the commandos in Golani — an infantry outfit that takes its name from the Golan Heights — say they try to leave politics to the politicians and war planning to the generals.

“Our job is to take orders and to go in with poison in our eyes,” said Mr. Yogev. “We don’t break in Golani. Either you go out on a stretcher or in body bag.”

Checking their watches, they cleaned up their picnic table and headed for the shuttle bus toward the Lebanese border.

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