Army chief vows IDF will investigate itself after several scandals come to light

Army chief vows IDF will investigate itself after several scandals come to light

Referring to three recent incidents in which officers were found to have abused power or been negligent, Kohavi maintains that the military must learn from its mistakes

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

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi addresses a group of Kfir Brigade soldiers stationed at the Gaza border on January 22, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi addresses a group of Kfir Brigade soldiers stationed at the Gaza border on January 22, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Army chief Aviv Kohavi on Tuesday responded to a series of scandals in the Israel Defense Forces that emerged in recent months, saying the military would investigate the events and work to ensure they weren’t repeated.

“Recently, a number of irregular incidents have occurred in the IDF. I want to make it clear, in all of those cases, the mistakes and the lacunae were reported by the commanders up the chain of command, to me, and were investigated at the IDF’s own initiative,” Chief of Staff Kohavi said.

The past three months saw the revelation that the military had for years incorrectly reported the number of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in its ranks; air force officers failing to move fighter jets to safety, resulting in some NIS 30 million ($8.7 million) in damage; and a television exposé on officers from an intelligence unit taking advantage of their positions and trying to cover up their actions during an investigation.

Kohavi appeared to be rebuffing criticism in light of these events that the public was losing faith in the military. He made his remarks at a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of the so-called Disaster of the Helicopters, in which two helicopters collided in midair, killing all 73 soldiers on board.

The army chief said that crash prompted a series of “intensive investigations and deep conclusions,” which ultimately improved the air force and made it more professional.

Kohavi said the military was continuing this tradition of self-reflection. “The IDF is an army that learns, that studies itself deeply,” he 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)

Though in the three cases mentioned above, the public only learned of these abuses of power or mistakes through media reports, Kohavi said the military’s top brass had already been aware of them and had been working to address them internally.

“The IDF was the one who discovered the differences in the ultra-Orthodox enlistment figures and immediately formed an internal investigative team. The IDF was the one who discovered the scandal in the elite unit and appointed an officer to look into it. It was the case as well with the flooding at the air force’s Hatzor base,” Kohavi said.

Military officials have, however, acknowledged that in the cases of the false ultra-Orthodox enlistment statistics and the flooding, the IDF ought to have been more forthcoming about the issues, rather than having them be revealed in exposés. The damage to the fighter jets was initially barred from publication by the military censor, which the IDF acknowledged was a “mistake” as this gave the impression that it was trying to cover up the mistake.

The IDF’s investigations into the incorrect ultra-Orthodox statistics and the flooding on the Hatzor air base are ongoing, though some initial findings have been released by the military.

Last week, the IDF completed its investigation of Military Intelligence Unit 504, finding that officers of the detachment, which is responsible for developing and maintaining assets in the West Bank, Gaza and in enemy countries, used one of those Palestinian assets to purchase tahini for a more senior intelligence officer in a clear breach of the military’s rules, limiting the use of such operations only for missions.

In that case, one officer was also found to have lied about the incident in an attempt to cover it up, resulting in summary dismissal from his position. Another officer involved in the incident was sentenced to 28 days in prison. Several other officers received official reprimands.

In the case of the flooding on the Hatzor base, several officers involved in the matter received official censure and the commander of the base left his position early, though he will continue to serve in the IDF and will soon be stationed as a defense attache in a foreign country.

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