Skip to comments.Katz and Feldman are dead, say Sultan Yaqub tank buddies
Posted on 02/16/2004 7:10:22 PM PST by yonif
On June 11, 1982, the fifth day of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during the height of a battle with Syrian forces in eastern Lebanon, a Syrian anti-tank missile shell hit an Israeli Patton tank. The tank caught on fire and four Israeli crew members leaped from it - commander Hezi Shai, cannon man Ariel Lieberman, cannon loader Zvi Feldman and driver Zecharia Baumel.
Shai and Lieberman were captured. Feldman and Baumel were never found and since Operation Peace for Galilee they have been declared MIAs. It was reported Sunday that the Israel Defense Forces intends to soon declare Feldman, Baumel and Yehuda Katz - another soldier lost during the Sultan Yaqub battle - as killed in action, their final resting place unknown.
According to the tank driver from Katz's tank, he was shot dead during the battle. The driver, Yehuda Kaplan, said Monday that crew members tried to revive Katz, and two officers who arrived at the crippled tank during the battle also tried, but to no avail. That tank's commander, Zohar Lifshitz, was also killed - but his body was recovered two years after the battle, from Syria. Katz's body was never recovered.
Lieberman and Shai on Monday broke nearly two decades of silence, telling Haaretz that when they abandoned the tank, Feldman and Baumel were alive, but that Feldman was subsequently killed by gunfire.
"I can say with certainty that Feldman was hit by fire and killed. He was right next to me. I heard Baumel was wounded. But I didn't look into it and didn't find out for sure because we were far away by then," said Shai.
Lieberman backs up Shai's version of events. "The Syrian fire was from far away but it was very accurate. We had to abandon the tank. The four of us were together. We sat down. But then they began shooting at us." They scattered to take cover, and that would be the last time the four of them would be together.
The four tank crew members first met during the week reservists were called up before the war. "We were a new crew that never trained together," said Lieberman.
Shai's tank belonged the 362nd battalion, commanded by Ira Efroni, a forward battalion in Col. Miki Shahar's brigade. They were sent to the Sultan Yaqub area by direct order from Maj. Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal as part of the plan to capture the Beirut-Damascus road. Due to a breakdown in the company commander's tank, Shai's tank essentially became the command tank in the company.
"We fought all night between the 10th and 11th of June," said Lieberman. "Only in the morning did we discover we were surrounded by Syrian forces. I heard the talk on the radio. But I didn't understand how big a mess we were in." That's when they were hit by the Syrian anti-tank missile.
"When your tank is hit and on fire, the first thing you think of is getting out alive," Shai said. But when they jumped from the tank they immediately came under fire. According to Lieberman, the four were together for about five to ten minutes and then began to scatter, trying to find cover. When the shooting stopped, Lieberman and Shai found themselves alone.
"We hid all day," Lieberman said. "When it grew dark we started walking. I had no idea where we were going. But I felt Hezi knew which way we had to go."
"We were heading north," said Shai, "trying to get back to our lines." But about an hour into their night-time hike, they lost each other. Shai was caught by the Syrians during the night by gunmen from Ahmed Jibril's organization. Lieberman was caught by Syrian troops the next morning. It would take two years for Lieberman to be returned, in 1984. A year later, Shai was returned as part of the prisoner exchange with the Jibril organization. Baumel, Feldman and Katz were never heard from again.
Clockwise from top: IDF soldiers Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zecharia Baumel went missing during a 1982 tank battle in Lebanon. (Archives)