OpinionIsrael at War

The soldier in the north

Leonardo Aseni knows what a Hezbollah invasion would mean, “but we will not allow it.”

Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.
Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies.

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel, 35-year-old Leonardo Aseni left his home in Tel Aviv and his work in high-tech to fight as a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces. He serves in the legendary Golani Brigade. He was sent to the northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah rockets continue to be fired, arousing fears of a wider war in the Mideast.

Shortly after Hamas’s rampage of war crimes, Biden said to Hezbollah and Iran, and anyone thinking of interfering in the conflict, “Don’t.” But since the black Sabbath, all Israel is wondering if Hezbollah will join Hamas’s assault on Israel even as the IDF fights in Gaza.

A war with Hezbollah might present an even greater danger to the lives of IDF soldiers and especially the civilian population. Hezbollah is the Iranian mullahs’ Shi’ite militia of choice. Iran has provided them with missiles and drones for decades, which can threaten all of Israel. Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah has first-rate arms and training. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah has built a fanatical and skilled organization that excels at terrorism and international drug and arms trafficking.

The mullahs’ highest ambition is to destroy Israel. Ever since its Sunni colleague Hamas launched its murderous assault, Hezbollah has been sidling up to the edge of war, including in the area where Aseni serves. Even the impotent U.N. “peacekeeping” force in southern Lebanon has been hit. 30 Hezbollah terrorists and six Israelis have been killed so far, including two from Leonardo’s unit. At least one major town, Kiryat Shmona, has been evacuated.

Aseni recounts: “That morning of the 7th, I sensed from the first sirens that something huge was happening, the impossible, the unreal, and I ran for the assembling point. Now, here we are together, deployed in large numbers, we are again Golani, the mythological unit I dreamed of being part of as a boy. We meet again but with an affection that cannot be imagined.”

Leonardo speaks to me via mobile phone just next to his unit under a large tree. I only see leaves and his uniform, along with his Tavor rifle.

“I am a sharpshooter chosen for assaults,” he says. “I open the way. As soon as you show yourself to their eyes, you are a target. I go ahead of everyone to our target during our operations in order to risk as little as possible. I precede the commander.”

It is he who takes the risk and takes on the responsibility.

“Yes, of course, it’s scary,” he says, “but you’re busy. You have to look for woods, bushes, valleys that hide you. As soon as you are in sight, Hezbollah locates you and shoots a Kornet missile at you. It chases you and gets you for sure if you can’t find a hiding place, and you don’t always find it.”

Leonardo is broken up over the killing of a lone soldier, 22-year-old Omer Balva, who came from the United States to fight for Israel. “We went to recover his torn body,” he says.

“If one of us is hungry, everyone gets food out of the other’s mouth,” he states. Is Leonardo hungry? “Well, a lot. The other night—I don’t know how—a lady managed to get here with pizza and it was a party, even though it was cold. We sleep on the ground on a very stony and rough terrain. We’re covered with thorns. We are on constant alert. So much so that I haven’t changed since then.”

Leonardo understands the danger represented by Hezbollah.

“If they ever prepare for an invasion like Hamas, it would be 10 times more terrible,” he says. “Think what would happen if they spilled into Metula, Shtula … They are fanatics, fierce terrorists. But we will not allow it.”

Leonardo has pensive eyes, but he doesn’t seem tired, even though today he ate nothing but a bag of peanut snacks and three or four Mentos. He would like to take a shower. Is this being a hero? Leonardo laughs. He has things to do: refill his water bottle, recharge batteries, check a rain blanket. But at any minute he can be called on a mission. There is no time for a shower.

To his parents, and all the parents, I send my best wishes. They know everything. They need not speak.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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