Zmora likened to fallen commander of 1976 Entebbe Operation

‘Hero of Israel’: Thousands pay last respects to officer killed in hostage rescue op

Arnon Zmora’s widow eulogizes ‘a sweet man full of laughter, sensitivity and compassion’; in tearful tribute, uncle of rescued hostage says families have ‘unbreakable alliance’

People wave the Israeli flag as they pay their respect to counter-terror officer Arnon Zamora, who was killed in battle on June 8 during a special operation to rescue four Israeli hostages from Gaza, outside his family home in Mevasseret Zion, June 9, 2024.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wave the Israeli flag as they pay their respect to counter-terror officer Arnon Zamora, who was killed in battle on June 8 during a special operation to rescue four Israeli hostages from Gaza, outside his family home in Mevasseret Zion, June 9, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of mourners, among them family members of hostages held in Gaza, flocked to Jerusalem on Sunday to attend the funeral of Arnon Zmora, the police counter-terror officer killed Saturday during an operation that rescued four captives from central Gaza.

Zmora, an officer of the elite Yamam counter-terrorism unit, was shot and critically injured by Hamas terrorists guarding three of the four hostages. He succumbed to his wounds shortly upon arriving at a hospital in Israel.

He was part of the mission to rescue Almog Meir Jan, Andrey Kozlov, Shlomi Ziv and Noa Argamani, which was subsequently renamed “Operation Arnon” in his honor.

Even before the arrival of the funeral procession at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery, Israelis lined the street outside the Zmora family’s home in the nearby town of Mevasseret Zion, waving Israeli flags in tribute.

Inside the cemetery, Zmora’s mother Ruti eulogized her son, whom she said was not only “your mother’s hero,” but also “an entire country’s hero.”

“Your favorite movie as a child was ‘Robin Hood.’ In second grade, you dressed up as a paratrooper. You looked up to Yoni Netanyahu for Operation Entebbe,” Channel 12 news quoted Ruti as saying, referring to the IDF hero — brother of the current prime minister — killed during the 1976 mission that saved over 100 Israeli hostages kidnapped to Uganda.

“My boy, full of joy, of life, with a kind gaze and a rolling laugh that remains in my heart,” she said. “An imaginative, creative child who knows that even if the road is difficult, the sky is the limit.

“My beloved child,” she continued, “I am so happy that last Friday I was able to say to you: ‘Arnon, take care of yourself and your friends. I love you.’ You answered me: ‘Mom, I love you too.'”

“I knew it was Russian roulette,” she said. “You sacrificed your life for the country.”

The head of the Yamam counter-terror unit said of Zmora that he was “always first, and during the heroic operation he led, he acted with courage and was a model for his fighters.

Chief Inspector Arnon Zmora, who was killed in a mission to rescue hostages held in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Israel Police)

“His actions brought light to the people of Israel and unfortunately he paid for it with his life,” he added. “Instead of being part of the national jubilation, we are going into deep mourning.”

The funeral was attended by Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who delivered a eulogy on behalf of the Israel Police.

“Arnon, I knew you and heard a lot about you. You fought on October 7 in the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza, you participated in countless activities and operations that will forever be hidden from the public eye,” Shabtai said. “You always understood the mission that was before you, you strove for contact, you acted with the courage reserved for outstanding people, and I believe you deeply felt the magnitude of the hour.

“Arnon, we agreed that we would parachute together at the end of my term,” said Shabtai, whose tenure will end on July 17. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do it.”

Among those paying tribute to Zmora was Aviram Meir, the uncle of Almog Meir Jan, one of the hostages rescued during Saturday’s daylight operation.

Arnon “brought joy to the families, you brought joy to the people of Israel,” Aviram Meir said through tears.

“I would like to address the Zmora family and tell you that the blood of your children is mixed with ours. This is an unbreakable alliance. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Arnon’s widow Michal Zmora was the last to speak and said she had chosen to do so intentionally.

“I asked to speak last because the commanders were talking about how much of a hero you are… now everyone knows about your heroism,” she said. “More than everything, though, you were a sweet man, full of laughter, sensitivity and compassion. You have been my spouse for the last 12 years. For the last eight years, you have also been the perfect father.

“It’s important that these things be said last, after the stories of heroism. That’s what will resonate from you.”

Michal continued: “There is no other love like ours, there isn’t any. You don’t see that kind of love anymore, a love that involves choosing each other every morning. A love that involves dialogue and listening — with each passing day, we loved each other more.

“We raised two wonderful children together, my love, whose worlds fell apart in an instant. I am enveloping them and protecting them. I know you know that, and I also know that you thought about us in the split second when you realized that death was coming.

“In the end, the children and I will be fine,” she said through tears. “They will know how much of a hero their father was, how many lives he saved… but much more than that, they will remember how much fun they had with you. Riding bikes, playing the guitar, lighting a bonfire, eating ice cream, having fun together, and being a family.”

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogized Zmora at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“The massive achievement yesterday caused the nation to stand up taller,” said Netanyahu, “and I must say, it caused Israel’s supporters around the world to stand taller as well.”

“But it came with great pain, the fall of the hero of Israel, the IDF warrior, the late commander Arnon Zmora,” he continued.

Yoni Netanyahu, in a photograph taken shortly before his death at Entebbe in 1976. (GPO, Wikimedia)

He related a story told by Amir Ofer, a commando who freed hostages from Entebbe Airport in 1976 under the command of Netanyahu’s brother Yoni, about meeting Zmora.

After October 7, Zmora called Ofer to recount the battles he took part in against Hamas terrorists in Israeli towns and on roads near the border. “How did you succeed and we didn’t?” Zmora asked Ofer.

“It took me a few hours to digest your story. You were really heroes and you performed in an extraordinary way under the most difficult conditions,” Ofer wrote to Zmora.

“Arnon will forever be remembered in the history of our people,” said Netanyahu. “Just like the [Yitzhak] Rabin government supported the proposal to call the operation to free the hostage in Entebbe ‘Operation Yonatan,’ after the commander of the assault force who fell in battle, I am sure that our government also unanimously supports the proposal to name the operation to free the hostages in Gaza ‘Operation Arnon’ after the commander of the force who fell in battle — the hero of Israel Arnon Zmora.”

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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