ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Fixing up old tanks and recruiting old reservists, a tech VP creates a new battalion

Says one new-old recruit: ‘If there’s anyone I’d want to go to battle with, it’s these guys’; Phoenix unit initially replaced tanks on border but has since seen action inside Gaza

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

  • A refurbished tank on the move. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    A refurbished tank on the move. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground.  (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • Checkiing whether an old tank can be rehabilitated. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    Checkiing whether an old tank can be rehabilitated. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • Major (res.) Dan Levit. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    Major (res.) Dan Levit. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
  • A refurbished tank of the Phoenix battalion in training. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
    A refurbished tank of the Phoenix battalion in training. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Embodying volunteer spirit and some out-of-the-box thinking, a group of soldiers long since released from the army and a collection of tanks no longer in use have been brought together to create Phoenix, a new armored tank battalion that is already seeing action in Gaza.

The idea was hatched by Dan Levit, who works in the tech sector and serves as a major in the IDF reserves, just three days after thousands of Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, butchered 1,200 people and kidnapped some 240 to the Strip.

According to a Channel 12 news report, Levit met with a fellow reserve officer, Erez Sa’adon, at Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the Gaza border communities worst hit by the brutal attack. Grasping that the army needed more tanks, the two men located a list of 95 vehicles that had been decommissioned by the military.

Armed with the list, Levit went from army base to army base and tried to move the aging war machines.

Levit told Channel 12 that people laughed at him at first, but when they realized he was serious, they asked what they could do to help.

The army provided technical personnel to check whether the tanks could be rehabilitated, concluding that it could make 10 of them operational within three days, and that more could be made ready later on.

Checking whether an old tank can be rehabilitated. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“We found 24 tanks,” Levit said. “We took our findings to the head of the Armored Corps, who asked, ‘But what about people?’

“So we wrote a message on WhatsApp that we were looking for people. Within 24 hours, 650 volunteers had come forward,” he recounted.

“We just started to call each one, to see who was suitable. That’s how we recruited a company,” he said.

Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The volunteers — not all in fighting shape — included a former deputy division commander who said he was ready to do whatever was needed, and a major in the reserves, Roi Raz, who now lives in Wales and returned to Israel to take part in Phoenix.

“People who never thought they’d wear an army uniform again, and tanks that nobody thought would be driven anymore, have  risen again,” Levit told Channel 12. “We aim to train tank platoons and companies, and to turn old junk back into monsters of war.”

Major (res.) Dan Levit. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Before long, the group had managed to assemble three tank companies, Levit recounted. Seeing their success, the army now wanted nine.

Erez Gonen, the commander of one of the Phoenix companies, told the TV station alongside three close army buddies from his conscription days in the 1990s that they all served together in Lebanon — and had reunited now.

One wore a pro-democracy T-shirt from protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, while another is religious and lives in a West Bank settlement.

Master Sgt. (res.) Amir Sabah said: “If there’s anyone I would want to go out to battle with, it’s these guys.”

A refurbished tank of the Phoenix battalion in training. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Everyone here received a kick in the gut on October 7,” said Shlomi Hazan. “It’s your choice what you do with that. You can even see this as a kind of apology from us that we weren’t there when we were needed.”

Master Sgt. (res.) Ronen Hazut admitted that he hadn’t been in a tank for 15 years, adding that he had not believed it was possible to create a company from scratch with the old tanks.

Old comrades meet again at the Phoenix training ground. (Channel 12 screen shot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Phoenix battalion began by replacing tanks on the Israeli border with Gaza, but has since also been on missions within the enclave, Channel 12 reported.

Cpt. (res.) Danny Luria said he was in a protected room with his family in Kibbutz Sa’ad, close to the Gaza border, on October 7. Hamas gunmen murdered his brother-in-law’s father in another kibbutz nearby. Before leaving the house, he said, he told his 13-year-old son that “everyone had a job to do, and mine is to go and fight.”

Preparing a refurbished tank for transport to the Gaza border. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

He added: “I think of Harry Potter. The first time Harry sees that Dumbledore’s phoenix is dead, he can’t believe it. And then, when it’s reborn, it turns back into a phoenix, better than ever, a phoenix that flies and heals and fights.”

“It’s part of what we are as a country,” he added. “We went through what was perhaps the worst thing possible, and from that, you see this rebirth.”

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