Behind Operation Cristofani
Behind Operation Cristofani

“When the call came about captured forces, we were up in the air within a minute or two”

Behind Operation Cristofani

The Bell 202 plane landed Golani fighters deep onto Lebanese mountains

Illustrative Photo

Behind Operation Cristofani

Brigadier General (Res.) Gabby Shachor

Illustrative Photo

That night, three soldiers of Givati infantry were killed on Cristofani ridge in Lebanon right after their unit faced a very well planned ambush. In a bold operation, IAF pilots rescued the other fighters and took out the terrorists. Later, on the operation received an IAF Commander citation
Tal Michael

On a September night, 25 years ago, Givati infantry soldiers found themselves in the midst of an ambush: They were so close to the border and so far from home. As night fell upon the sky after a typical fall sunset they climbed the Bell 212, which took off from the slopes of the Lebanese Mount Hermon, and prepared for another night of fighting terroristic links beyond the border, where terrorists awaited.

After the primary shock the fire arose and bundles of bullets whistled across the forces. Two of the units commanders were killed instantly and a soldier who was very seriously injured died from his wounds a short time afterwards. In the meantime, other captured soldiers called for help and received it very quickly although to them it felt like a lifetime.

The Silent Valley

As time went by in a northern base, rows of Bell 212 and Bell AH-1 Cobras waited for go time, armed and ready to operate. “When we got a call from the captured forces, we were sitting at the base’s club and watching TV. We immediately hurried toward the helicopter, turned the engine on and within a minute or two we were up in the air”, says Brigadier General (Res.) Gabby Shachor, then Major Shachor, who boarded the plane with Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Yoel Pitterberg. “When we were up in the air, we received details about the shape of the forces and began approaching the reported location. The night was dark and we saw only the black spot of Mount Hermon, and above it the Lebanese Hermon which looked much taller and intimidating”.

It was a while until Gabby and Yoel realized that the commander and deputy commander of the unit were injured and that the soldiers were trapped in fire zone. As they approached, their worst fears came true: projectile fire had opened from all directions at once. “Prepare to aim fire on the terrorists” recalls Brigadier General (Res.) Shachor. “The distance between the firing locations and our forces was very slim and so we had to be as accurate as possible”. After what seemed like long minutes of shooting between the helicopters, infantry forces and the terrorists, the valley was silenced.

And Then, the Flare Went Out

The darkness in an unknown territory required Gabby and Yoel to put their creative minds into use, which later on paid off when they got a citation from commander of the IAF. Combat airplanes couldn’t approach and light up the area and that’s when Gabby decided they would have to do it alone. They would leave the area, fire a flare and return quickly to the danger zone. That way they would earn valuable minutes that would help them understand the situation and react.

And that is exactly what they did. “We left the area, I launched the flare missiles and conducted a very sharp and quick move”, describes Brigadier General (Res.) Shachor. “We still haven’t gotten everyone’s locations, but we knew that out forces are located at the east and southern areas and we realized that we can shoot the terrorists without harming our people. But of course, at that exact moment, eight meters above ground, the flare went out “.

AH-1 Cobra to the Rescue

In the meantime, a confirmation was received regarding the arrival of the Bell 212 to collect the captured forces. While Gabby and Yoel covered the armed AH-1 Cobra from above, fighters climbed down the helicopters belly and assisted the trapped forces. “From time to time the sky was lit by faraway shooting. Suddenly, fire started from a new direction towards the forces. It lasted only a few seconds, but this time it didn’t surprise us. We shot towards the shooter until the fire ceased”.

The forces got onto the helicopter and the AH-1 Cobra was back in Israeli territory by dawn. “Yoel and I flew back to the base where I almost collapsed on the concrete; it was a very long night, very long. Although we were able to fly despite the challenges and procedures and give an effective aid to our forces, they were still harmed. The main lesson I learned from that tough, long night is that even when things seem hard you can still contribute, make a difference and help out”.