The American who went to war for Israel, lost an arm and went back

On January 8, 2009, Miami native Izzy Ezagui was sitting in a tent about a mile from the Gaza Strip. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), he was with his unit and awaiting orders for a mission into unpredictable Gaza to retrieve the body of a captain who had been killed by a grenade launcher.

Holding his cellphone, Ezagui had been trying to decide whether to call his mother to tell her about the mission. He’d lied to her previously, saying he was stationed far from the front. Now, with danger on the way, he wondered if it was time to fess up.

At that moment, a 120 mm mortar flew into the tent, landing inches from Ezagui and exploding on impact. The mortar all but separated his left arm from his body.

“I remember going from holding the phone in my hands to there just being smoke everywhere, and [hearing] that noise you hear in [war] movies — that ringing in your ear,” Ezagui, 29, told The Post.

“Things were moving in slow motion and there was a strange coppery smell and blood. At a certain point, I realized it was my blood. And I looked down and I saw that a piece of me was not attached anymore.”

The most surprising part of Ezagui’s story, as he shares in his new memoir, “Disarmed: Unconventional Lessons From the World’s Only One-Armed Special Forces Sharpshooter” (Prometheus Books), is that he knew almost immediately that he wanted to return to combat.

Ezagui, raised in a religious Jewish community by a father who was a real estate developer (and who spent some time in prison for fraud) and a stay-at-home mother, decided to join the IDF as an 18-year-old to give back to his faith.

“Knowing what the Jewish people had gone through and being proud of the fact that for the first time in thousands of years, we have a way to stand up for ourselves . . . It seemed like the only right thing to do,” he said.

His dedication didn’t waver even after his arm was amputated.

“I was sick of not finishing things I had started,” he said. “I didn’t finish high school. I had a few jobs I didn’t stay around [in] for very long. Most of the things up to that point in my life were incomplete, and I was tired of not seeing things through. Maybe I chose a bit of a doozy. But I knew with utter certainty that was my path.”

I looked down and I saw that a piece of me was not attached anymore.

Convincing the IDF, however, was another matter. Just a month after the incident, Ezagui was required to retake all the physical tests he had passed as a new IDF recruit, including climbing ropes, jumping over walls, and loading his rifle within seconds.

Of the latter, he said, “That was the moment that came closest to knocking me on my ass.

“Every time I tried to load my rifle it would jam, because I didn’t have a second hand to hold it steady,” he recalled. “I needed to use my amputation, my tender wounds, to put pressure on the butt of the rifle so it stayed steady. I nearly blacked out from the pain every time I did it . . . What’s crazy is that at a certain point, it stops becoming an obstacle and it becomes a secret weapon, because when you feel that much pain, you get a boost of adrenaline. I saw the lines on targets a little clearer. My marksmanship actually got better.”

The most triumphant moment of his comeback occurred on the IDF’s grueling obstacle course. As he ran, a group of soldiers stopped to cheer him on, screaming, “You crazy beast! You can do it!”

“They pushed me to the end. Because of them,” Ezagui said, “I beat my original, two-arm time by two full minutes.”

It took a year and a half from the time of his injury until he could be reinstated, but Ezagui not only made it back to the IDF — he was also given command of his own unit.

Maybe I chose a bit of a doozy. But I knew with utter certainty that was my path.

Remarkably, he believes the accident changed his life for the better

“I lost my arm, but I gained a lot more heart, a stronger backbone and more willpower to see things through,” Ezagui said. “I don’t know who I would be without this.”

Izzy Ezagui is conducting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the distribution of his film “Pull Yourself Together”

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