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Emmanuel Moreno

(1971 - 2006)

Emmanuel Yehuda Moreno (Hebrew: עמנואל יהודה מורנו) on June 17, 1971, in Paris. His father was from Morocco, and his mother was from Tunisia. Moreno’s grandmother, Ninette Moreno, was one of the passengers on Air France Flight 139, hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in 1976 and taken to Entebbe, where the passengers were rescued in Operation Entebbe.

When he was one year old, his family immigrated to Israel, and he grew up in the Sanhedria neighborhood of Jerusalem. He was a Bnei Akiva Youth Movement member and attended the Himmelfarb and Hartmann High School and then the Bnei David Pre-Military Academy.

He was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1990 and completed training for the elite Sayeret Matkal unit in 1992. After his discharge from the army, he studied law at the Interdisciplinary Center (now Reichman University) in Herzliya while at the same time working for the Shin Bet. Upon graduation, he returned to Sayeret Matkal, serving for 16 years until his death.

Moreno participated in numerous operations in Lebanon during the South Lebanon conflict and in the Palestinian territories, most of which remain classified. His role in operations has only been acknowledged in two instances. He participated in Operation Poisonous Sting, in which Amal commander Mustafa Dirani, the man who held aviator Ron Arad captive, was abducted from his home in Lebanon in 1994. In 2003, Moreno commanded the rescue of taxi driver Eliyahu Gorel after he had been kidnapped by Palestinians and held in a cellar in Beitunia.

On August 19, 2006, after a ceasefire was announced in the Second Lebanon War, Moreno led men disguised as Lebanese Army soldiers on an operation in the Baalbek area. Information about the operation was leaked to enemy media outlets; nevertheless, it was ordered to be executed. On their way back to Israel, Hezbollah fighters ambushed the force, and Moreno, seated in a jeep, was killed. The operation remains classified.

One of his comrades said, “During his service, Emmanuel became the fighter who took part in the greatest number of operations in the unit’s history. On more than one occasion, his level-headedness and courage made the difference between failure and yet another success story that shall remain classified. The squad commander once compared him to Bar-Kokhba because we had not seen a fighter like him since.”

Herzi Halevi, now IDF Chief of Staff and a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, explained why he deserved to be called “World’s Best Soldier”:

If the IDF is the best army in the world, and if Sayeret Matkal is the best unit in the IDF, and Emmanuel is the best soldier in Sayeret Matkal – then that makes Emmanuel the best soldier in the world.

One story the Israel Defense and Security Forum recounted captures Moreno’s spirit. After five soldiers were killed when a helicopter was shot down in Lebanon, Moreno and a comrade discussed what they would have done if a missile hit their chopper, and they had only five seconds to live. His colleague said he would shut his eyes and hope it would all be over as quickly and painlessly as possible. Moreno told him that he would have recited the Shema prayer.

When asked what good this would do since they’d be dead in seconds, Moreno responded, “If a person has just five more seconds to live and there is still meaning to his life and the hereafter in those five seconds, this would mean that his entire life has meaning. But on the other hand, if a person has got just five more seconds to live and he doesn’t comprehend the importance of those five seconds, then that person’s whole life evidently is meaningless. Because we live not merely to satisfy our desires or to enjoy ourselves and live for the moment. Our life is another step toward the step that follows.”

On April 27, 2008, the head of the IDF Intelligence Division awarded Emmanuel with the Head of Regional Command Citation (Hebrew: צל” ש אלוף) “for his numerous years of dedication to the security of the State of Israel and his participation in several IDF operations throughout the Second Lebanon War.”

In 2018, a recording of Moreno’s voice was publicized, taken from the ceremony where Moreno was granted his Lieutenant Colonel rank.

The Israeli Military Censor bans the publication of Moreno’s photograph. He remains the only Israeli soldier whose photographs have been forbidden for publication after his death. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who served with Moreno in Sayeret Matkal, said the photo is classified “because the enemy can do reverse engineering, and say ‘Oh, I saw him in such and such a place’ and then retrospectively harm Israel’s security interests.’”

Moreno was married to Maya, whom he met in Neve Dekalim. The couple had three children: Aviya, Neria, and Noam-Yisrael.

Sources: “On This Day: Emmanuel Moreno, the World’s Best Soldier, Has Fallen in Battle,” Israel Defense And Security Forum, (August 19, 2022).
“Emmanuel Moreno,” Wikipedia.
Jonathan Gottlieb, “Naftali Bennett explains: This is why it is forbidden to show a picture of Emanuel Moreno,” Arutz Sheva [Hebrew], (February 23, 2023).