Former officer in elite Egoz unit charged in deadly friendly fire incident last year

Lieutenant indicted for negligent manslaughter over January 2022 incident in which Maj. Ofek Aharon and Maj. Itamar Elharar were killed

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

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base on January 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Then-IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Ofer Winter and Israeli army officers inspect the area where two officers from the Egoz commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident outside a base on January 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Military prosecutors on Tuesday filed an indictment against a former junior officer in the elite Egoz unit for killing two of his comrades in an incident of friendly fire a year and a half ago.

Identified only by his first Hebrew initial, Lt. “Nun” was charged with negligent manslaughter for shooting Maj. Ofek Aharon, 28, and Maj. Itamar Elharar, 26, to death on January 12, 2022.

The two slain officers and two soldiers had left their training base in the Jordan Valley to search for thieves after night vision equipment was stolen. “Nun” went on an independent search, and mistakenly identified the other troops as armed men, leading to the deadly encounter.

“Nun” was moved to another unit after the incident, and in May 2022 ended his military service at his request.

His lawyer, Ram Jeanne, said the indictment was unnecessary. “This is a grave disaster that also left Lt. ‘Nun’ with an unbearably heavy burden, and he shares in the enormous pain of the families,” he said in a statement.

The Israel Defense Forces said the indictment was filed following a hearing for the accused.

Undated photographs of Maj. Itamar Elharar, left, and Maj. Ofek Aharon, who were killed in a friendly fire incident outside their base in the Jordan Valley on January 12, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

A statement on behalf of Aharon’s and Elharar’s families welcomed the decision to file the indictment. “It must be determined that Lt. ‘Nun,’ who caused the death of the boys through a serious violation of procedures and who exceeded his authority in a life-threatening manner, which led to the tragic result, will bear responsibility for his actions,” it said.

The results of a probe published last year found that the catalyst for the friendly fire incident was the theft of night vision equipment from the firing range at the military’s Nebi Musa base in the Jordan Valley, an area that regularly sees thefts, mostly by residents of nearby Bedouin communities.

A day after the theft, two separate patrols set out from the firing ranges. One of those patrols was made up of “Nun,” acting alone. This in itself was a violation of IDF protocol requiring at least two people in a patrol. He set out on his patrol without informing anyone, with a magazine in his weapon and with a round loaded into the chamber.

Separately, a group of four Egoz members — three officers and a sergeant — set out on their own patrol. This patrol was made up of Aharon and Elharar, another commander at the rank of major, who can also only be identified by his first initial, “Yod,” and a non-commissioned officer, whose name was not released. They set out with nearly no planning and no clear objective beyond catching the suspected thief or someone else who could lead them to the culprit. “Yod,” with night vision equipment, primarily directed the patrol.

An undated photograph of Egoz soldiers taking part in an exercise. (Israel Defense Forces)

A little after 10 p.m., the larger patrol spotted “Nun” walking and believed he was a Bedouin thief. As they got close to him, at roughly 11 p.m., he noticed them and believed them to be “armed terrorists, threatening his life,” said Maj. Gen. (res.) Noam Tibon, who led the probe.

It was not known who fired first in the encounter. “Yod” and the sergeant told investigators that Aharon and Elharar did, while “Nun” maintained that he initiated the firefight. In either case, ultimately “Nun” shot Aharon and Elharar three times each. They fired their weapons — nine bullet casings were recovered from the scene — but missed.

According to the probe, “Nun” only stopped firing when “Yod,” realizing what had happened, shouted out, “Halt! Halt! IDF! IDF!”

Aharon and Elharar suffered direct hits and were pronounced dead at the scene.

In a separate incident in August 2022, Staff Sgt. Nathan Fitoussi, 20, was shot dead after he left and then returned to a guard post near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem and was misidentified as a threat.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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