The tragic deaths of three young Israeli backpackers in a freak storm in Nepal on Wednesday — which claimed the lives of at least 29 people overall — dominates headlines in Friday’s Hebrew press.
Of the three Israelis who lost their lives in the blizzard, the papers spotlight Tamar Ariel, 25, the first female combat navigator in the Israeli Air Force.
In Israel Hayom, the newspaper interviews a relative of Ariel who says that he had managed to contact some of her travel companions and piece together the details of her death. “They said that while [trekking] at a great height, they were caught in a serious storm. They started descending in small groups and, after reaching the bottom, took a roll call and discovered Ariel was missing. They went back up to where she’d been waiting, and there they found her.”
The relative, Shraga Wilke, who is also a resident of Ariel’s hometown of Moshav Masu’ot Yitzhak, described Ariel as a daredevil who loved extreme sports, but who was also very responsible.
The paper quotes a eulogy by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called Ariel “a trailblazer, and in her short life, she managed to leave a mark and serve as a role model for many young women, religious and secular alike.”
Tamar was “larger than life,” according to a soldier who served with her in the air force.
Yedioth Ahronoth writes that Ariel had taken a vacation to clear her head after the grueling summer conflict in Gaza, in which she played an active role. Ariel was supposed to return to Israel this coming Tuesday, it reports.
The paper references an earlier interview with the intrepid pilot — when she made history with her air force promotion in 2012. At the time, Ariel recounted her first solo flight, when, due to technical difficulties, she had to abandon the plane, and was injured in the process.
After a few months’ leave, Ariel returned to the air force to complete her training. “It was obvious to me that I would return to the flight course. I wanted to return from that first day. It wasn’t even a question.”
The two other victims — Agam Luria, 23; and Nadav Shoham, 30 — are both described by friends as responsible and serious.
“Agam was a very cautious guy, he always took care of those around him,” Boaz Rand, a friend of Luria’s, tells Yedioth. “I heard he volunteered to be the last one to be taken off the mountain, and that was so like him — to be willing to sacrifice his life for people he didn’t even know.” Over in Israel Hayom, Luria’s high school teacher described him as “destined for greatness.”
Shoham, a mechanical engineering student at the Technion and a resident of Hoshaya, was not “an adventurous type who took risks,” a resident of the community said. “He took a quick, focused trip before returning to school and work.”
Israel Hayom reports that Shoham’s hometown was still reeling from the death of Israel Defense Forces’ soldier Oren Noach, 21, during the summer campaign in Gaza, and on Wednesday, “mourning descended once again on the religious town, when the news of the death of Nadav Shoham reached the community.”
Yedioth also reports on the various Israeli trekkers who were caught in the storm, and who walked for hours in the snow, or stayed in a small hut for hours — with the snow seeping through the roof — until the blizzard subsided.
One Israeli group came across a hand peeking through the mounds of snow, and managed to retrieve an Israeli backpacker on the brink of hypothermia. Two of the travelers were medical students and immediately began treating the frozen hiker. “You could say we saved his life,” one said.
Meanwhile, Haaretz — which also leads with a story on the three Israeli trekkers — highlights a troubling investigative report on the IDF’s conduct during the recent summer conflict. The army’s tackling of the attack tunnels was characterized by “large gaps in training and a lack of appropriate equipment,” it reports. The defense establishment largely underestimated how long it would take to destroy the Hamas tunnels, and the operational instructions were often revised at the last minute.
The article says that the Israeli airstrikes often made the work of destroying the tunnels more difficult. In addition, it claims, “the ground forces lacked the appropriate means to blow up the tunnels, once they were located.” Moreover, the cabinet members were largely kept in the dark about the extent of the threat.
Most strikingly, the report also provides information about an incident on July 6 (two days before the conflict officially began), which offers an alternate account on how the operation broke out.
“In the meantime, from April 2014 on, it gradually became clear that Hamas was preparing for the possibility of carrying out a large terror attack by means of a tunnel in the Kibbutz Kerem Shalom area, at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.
“The Shin Bet issued a warning to the effect that Hamas was liable to try to capture soldiers and civilians by means of the tunnel, with the aim of obtaining an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza. The General Command, Southern Command and the intelligence branches made feverish efforts to locate the tunnel. The Gaza Division devoted more than 30 earth-moving vehicles — an extraordinarily large number — to the attempt to uncover the exit shaft in Israeli territory and put up barriers aimed at delaying access from the field near the fence of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom.
“When the searches on the Israeli side came to nothing, the army was given permission to attack. The Israeli Air Force dropped about 30 JDAM precision bombs on the Palestinian side of the border, with the aim of cutting off the route of the tunnel. Nevertheless, on July 6, seven fighters from Hamas’s special Naqba force entered the tunnel and were killed by a landslide caused by one of the bombardments.
“The incident at Kerem Shalom was the final trigger for the outbreak of war. Hamas reacted to the killing of its men with heavy rocket barrages, at increasingly distant targets. On the night between July 7 and July 8, the Israeli cabinet decided on Operation Protective Edge — and that is how the fighting, which lasted for 50 days, began.”