Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, 33, the commander of the 188th Armored Brigade’s 53rd Battalion, was killed on November 2 during the IDF ground operation in Gaza.
At the time of his death, Habaka, a native of the Druze village of Yanuh-Jat, was the highest-ranking officer to perish during IDF ground operation. He left behind a wife and a two-year-old son, along with his parents, two brothers and three sisters.
Almost a month before his death, Habaka was one of the first IDF soldiers to enter Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7, the site of countless Hamas atrocities.
“I raced all the way from the Galilee, down south, as fast as I could, to save any living thing in the community,” he said in a video interview a few days after the Hamas assault. “We made sure that there were no terrorists surrounding the houses so that the ground troops could go in and rescue those who were still alive.”
Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community, eulogized Habaka as “the salt of the earth who always went ahead first and fell as the first of his fighters. A hero who protected the citizens of the country and the citizens of Be’eri with bravery and resourcefullness and fell in a battle for the defense of the country.”
At his funeral, Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that “many citizens of Israel owe their lives to Salman Habaka. Even in the battle in which he was killed, Salman showed immense bravery, in a complex fight against dozens of terrorists.”
“Salman was a brave fighter, he fought with great strength,” said his brother, Tamer. “He was a generous and smart and professional guy. This is a huge loss for the village, for the Druze community and for the whole country… he always loved to give of himself for the good of the country.”
After his death, the IDF released the final conversation of Habaka with the commander of the 13th Battalion, Lt. Col. Tomer Greenberg, who requested that Habaka provide cover for his forces amid a Hamas ambush.
“Can I help you with something? Immediate extraction?” Habaka is heard saying over the radio to Greenberg, who replied asking for help, adding: “I rescued you, now you’ve come to help me.”
Habaka was killed later that night.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.