3 officers censured, base commander leaves position early over flooding of F-16s
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3 officers censured, base commander leaves position early over flooding of F-16s

IDF acknowledges ‘mistake’ in trying to censor the $8.7 million damage caused to eight fighter jets during a rainstorm last month

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An F-16 fighter jet that was damaged by flooding during a rainstorm in January is seen in its hangar after it returned to service in this undated photograph released on February 3, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
An F-16 fighter jet that was damaged by flooding during a rainstorm in January is seen in its hangar after it returned to service in this undated photograph released on February 3, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The commander of the Israeli Air Force on Tuesday formally censured three officers over the flooding of a number of underground hangars last month that caused an estimated NIS 30 million in damage to eight F-16 fighter jets and infrastructure, a senior IAF officer told reporters.

In addition, the commander of the base — who for security reasons can only be referred to by his rank and first Hebrew initial, Col. ‘Ayin’ — decided to leave his position early. He will, however, continue his career in the military and is set to become a defense attaché in an Israeli embassy abroad, according to chief of staff of the air force Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan.

Barkan said the interim findings of the military’s investigation into the incident, which were presented to IAF chief Amikam Norkin this week, showed that the officers on the base failed to take the steps necessary to prevent the flooding on January 9, despite there having been clear warning of inclement weather.

“The proper and professional operation of the base’s drainage system, which was recently upgraded, would have minimized the damage significantly,” Barkan said.

An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on the Hatzor air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)

As a result, the commander of the F-16 squadron, the maintenance squadron commander and the aviation squadron commander all received official rebuke. Norkin did not call for any other censures at this time, though Barkan noted that the investigation is ongoing.

The investigation found that the officers in question incorrectly assessed the force of the incoming rainstorm, which dropped some 50 million liters (13 million gallons) of water onto the area around the base in the span of half an hour and caused a nearby stream to overflow.

As a result of this flawed evaluation, they did not evacuate the underground hangars in time or take other steps necessary to prevent the flooding, the investigation found.

The air force’s probe also looked into the reasoning behind the military’s initial decision to censor information about the flooding and damage to the airplanes, which was decried by many defense analysts as an effort to cover up the affair.

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin speaks at the Israel Aviation Conference at Airport City, May 2, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

“The commander of the air force noted that we made a mistake in the timing of the publicizing of the incident, and that it would have been correct to do so much earlier. The mistake arose from incorrect professional, security consideration,” Barkan said.

According to Barkan, five of the planes damaged in the flooding have already returned to service. The other three are still being repaired and should return to their squadron in approximately two months.

The total cost of the flooding — including damage to the planes, ammunition, equipment and to the hangars — is estimated at NIS 30 million ($8.7 million), Barkan said.

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