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Reserve soldiers are ready and waiting to enter Gaza

Reservists anxiously await order to move in to Gaza as talks of a cease-fire persist • After a mortar attack on a base in the south, some soldiers were sent home for a day of rest.
Lilach Shoval and Yael Branovsky

Soldiers called up for reserve duty in Operation Pillar of Defense continued their intensive training at IDF bases in the south on Tuesday as they waited for a possible order to enter Gaza. The atmosphere among the soldiers was one of high spirits and enthusiasm for a possible ground assault.

Many soldiers said they were anxious to help restore quiet in the south. "They are constantly telling us we will enter Gaza, but they always change the plans," one reserve officer said. "If we do finally enter Gaza, that will be fine with us. The wait will have been worth it. But if we don't enter, it will be truly unnerving for us."

One officer on a base in the south said, "Everyone wants to enter Gaza, but the truth is we are not wasting our time here until then. We are training all the time. This call-up has contributed something to us in any case."

A conscripted officer on the same base said, "Most of the logistical issues that arose over the weekend have been resolved. We are uncharacteristically not counting every penny here, training nonstop without any financial consideration. We have already conducted dozens of drills at the battalion level, many of which include live fire. When this is all over, everyone here will have gained valuable experience."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited a large military base in the south on Tuesday. Just after he left, a barrage of rockets fell on the base. During the salvo, a defense ministry employee was killed; four soldiers and two other employees were wounded. Many soldiers were sent home for a rest in the wake of the deadly barrage.

During his visit, Barak spoke to reservists called up over the weekend for emergency service, who have been training since then for a possible ground assault in Gaza.

"Quiet has not yet been restored in the south and that is why we are continuing," Barak said. "You are here so that if it becomes necessary and the order is given to act, you will be ready to do so. If that happens, you will need all the experience you can get. The country is depending on you. We are waiting patiently but are ready. We are taking advantage of every minute to prepare ourselves for this operation."

Part reserve combat pilot, part surgeon

L., a surgeon at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba and a combat pilot in the IDF reserves, divides his time between military service and the operating room. He updates his wife and three children, who are staying with his parents in the north, before and after every sortie he executes while on duty.

"I spend one day in the medical center and then one day in the army participating in the Gaza operation," L. said. "We live in Omer, but when the rockets began landing in the south I sent my wife and three children to my parents' home in the north."

On one occasion, upon returning from reserve duty, L. treated people injured by rocket fire.

"Fortunately, no one had a severe injury and I didn't have to operate. The rumor about my job in the IDF spread quickly and many patients encourage me and tell me they are proud of me. My children call me all the time and I speak with them before and after every flight. They are accustomed to the situation and say they are proud of me and want to take my place in the future."

L. said that during his days as a medical student and a reserve combat pilot, he mentally trained himself to make the switch. "I am used to making the switch. I return from a flight and delve straight into my other job as a surgeon."