An Israeli military court on Wednesday sentenced a soldier from the elite Duvdevan unit to 18 months in prison for accidentally shooting dead a fellow member of the unit earlier this year.
An internal army investigation found that Shahar Strug, posthumously promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant, was killed accidentally after the shooter — who can only be identified by his rank — sergeant — and the first letter of his Hebrew name, Nun — discharged his weapon during a game of “draw” in the unit’s barracks ahead of a training session.
According to court documents, “Sgt. Nun” and Strug were playing with their army-issued Glock-19 pistols in their barracks on the Nachshon Base, in the central West Bank, drawing their weapons from their holsters as they stood across from one another.
Strug, 20, from Givatayim, had blocked the barrel of his gun with a plastic safety plug. “Nun,” however, had not, and had inserted a loaded magazine into the gun, according to the indictment.
“After the defendant drew his gun, he aimed the pistol at the center mass of the victim’s body, cocked his weapon and pressed the trigger. As a result of the defendant’s actions, a bullet was fired from the pistol, which struck the victim in the chest, killing him,” according to the charge sheet.
Earlier this week, during a pre-sentencing hearing, “Nun” apologized to Strug’s family.
“Shahar and I were the closest friends in our team. He wasn’t just an ‘army friend,’ but a friend for life. What hurts most is that no matter what I do, there is no way for me to heal the pain of the Strug family,” he said.
“I just want to tell them that I am sorry and that I love them. I hope that in the future, you can forgive me, if that’s possible,” he said, crying.
The decision to offer the sergeant a relatively light sentence was reached as part of a plea deal between the prosecution and defense, which the regional military court accepted on Wednesday. The opinion of Strug’s family was voiced during the mediation efforts “and it was given significant weight,” the army said.
The agreement, under which “Nun” pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence, took into account “the tragic result and the severity of the infraction, alongside the circumstances of the incident and Nun’s personal circumstances,” the army said.
Strug’s family supported the shooter, saying he “wasn’t a murderer” and deserved a lighter sentence.
The court also found that the type of gun play that led to the death was very common in Duvdevan, and the military has launched several investigations into the matter.
“Following the incident, a series of lessons have been learned and significant disciplinary steps have been taken. The Israel Defense Forces will continue to act to instill and enforce weapons safety rules, in an effort to prevent tragic cases like this from happening again,” the army said.
Under the plea deal, the charges against Nun were downgraded from murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, to causing death by negligence, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
Last month, the army announced it would hold several officers accountable for regularly failing to uphold gun safety protocols.
The military said the entire chain of command up to the level of unit commander was facing punishment or reprimand over the incident and the culture that led to it.
An internal army investigation found that the commanders did not do enough to prevent the accident in which Strug was killed.
“The [investigative] commission found a flawed culture of illegal use of weapons in the team of fighters that the two belonged to, and it appears this was not an isolated incident,” the army said in a statement.
The Central Command’s internal investigative commission found that the unit had a history of gun safety violations.
One of the more public incidents took place in 2015, when two soldiers from the Duvdevan unit filmed themselves killing a camel in a drive-by shooting while they were on leave.
“The commission determined that there was insufficient oversight by commanders to prevent this use of weapons in violation of orders and protocols, despite the awareness of this possibility, in light of three previous instances of bullets accidentally being fired in the unit,” the army said.
As such, a planned promotion for the commander of the unit, a lieutenant colonel, was called off, and he will be unable to go up in rank for at least two years.
The commander of the platoon, a major, received a “severe reprimand,” the army said. He too will be ineligible for promotion for at least two years.
The head of Strug’s team, a lieutenant, and the team’s sergeant were dismissed from their positions.
For security reasons, the officers and sergeant cannot be identified by name.
The army said the investigative commission put forth a number of proposed changes for the unit’s gun safety policies, which IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot approved.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.