Court rules Military Police officer wrongly ousted, rejecting IDF chief’s appeal

In a rare decision, commander to stay in post despite being dismissed by Kohavi after soldier informant died by suicide

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 13, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attends a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 13, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by military chief Aviv Kohavi against a lower court’s ruling that the army reinstate an officer who was relieved of duty over the suicide of an informant.

Maj. Gilad Franco, the commanding officer of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s Beersheba station, was removed from his position by Kohavi in May 2020, after two members of his unit were indicted for failing to properly report on the mental health of one of their informants, Cpl. Niv Lubaton, a soldier in the Givati infantry brigade, who was found dead outside his base in southern Israel in September 2019.

But Franco appealed last year to the district court against the order, which stipulated that he would not serve in positions of command and could not be promoted for six years “in light of his responsibility as a commander for the incidents.”

Franco won the appeal, and the court ordered to have him return to his position, leading Kohavi to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The decision to oust Franco contradicts the IDF’s discharging procedures,” court Chief Justice Esther Hayut wrote in her decision Monday, adding that there was insufficient evidence to order his dismissal and that it contradicted the findings of the investigation.

The court said that it was an exceptional case, in which the intervention of the District Court was required, due to the problems with Kohavi’s decision.

Maj. Gilad Franco. (Courtesy/IDF Military Police)

Separately, the court also rejected an appeal on behalf of Lubaton’s parents, who claimed that the charges brought against the two indicted former Military Police officers were too lenient. In that case, the court said it could not intervene in the military attorney’s decision.

The two officers, who are still on trial, attempted to recruit Lubaton, who was in a squad commander training course, to provide information about drug dealing on the army’s Bislah base in southern Israel in January 2019. Lubaton initially agreed, but called back his handlers an hour and a half later, telling them he would not do it, and indicating he intended to harm himself.

According to the indictment against them, the two never reported this to their commanders, as they were required to do, including after Lubaton went missing from his base. He was found dead shortly thereafter.

Cpl. Niv Lubaton. (Courtesy)

The two indicted officers were charged with making false statements, failing to follow orders, and conduct unbecoming of a soldier for not reporting to their commanders that Lubaton had indicated to them that he intended to harm himself.

Four other officers received official reprimands: the commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s southern division and Lubaton’s three direct commanders in his squad leaders’ course for their failures during the searches for him after he went missing.

There was no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces on Monday’s court decision.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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