ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Generals tangle over blemished legacy of 2014 Gaza war

Southern chief during Protective Edge blasts his former deputy for ‘foolish’ claim the IDF is trying to cover up its failure

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman speaks at an event for Israeli reserve soldiers at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on May 8, 2016. (Flash90)
Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman speaks at an event for Israeli reserve soldiers at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on May 8, 2016. (Flash90)

The former head of the IDF’s Southern Command and his erstwhile deputy clashed Sunday over allegations that the 2014 Gaza conflict was a failure for Israel.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yom Tov Samia, who served as Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman’s deputy, has been a longtime, vocal critic of the army’s management of the 50-day war and its aftermath, specifically what he has called the “absurd” number of medals handed out to soldiers who fought in it.

On Sunday, he again derided the “scandalous” number medals of honor awarded, and added a new claim: that he’d never been invited to any debriefings or investigatory meetings in the wake of the conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

“I was the deputy head of the [Southern] Command, I dealt with the tunnels, and as of this moment, I have not been invited to a single investigatory hearing, not a single investigatory hearing,” Samia told Army Radio on Sunday morning.

His claims came amid a roiling controversy surrounding a leaked state comptroller report about the war, said to accuse the prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff of withholding information from cabinet ministers and of being woefully unprepared for the threat of underground attack tunnels.

Yom-Tov Samia (screen capture: YouTube)
Yom-Tov Samia (screen capture: YouTube)

Samia, who has also served as head of the Southern Command, admitted that he’d not actually seen the reportedly damning report, but was nevertheless convinced that it barely skimmed the surface of the failings in the conflict — based on the fact that he was not asked to take part in the investigation.

“It really troubles me. It means that they were afraid to do serious summaries,” he said.

A few hours later Turgeman, Samia’s commander during the war, rejected that claim entirely, albeit without mentioning Samia by name.

“Everyone who was supposed to be invited was invited. If someone says they weren’t, they’re choosing to be inaccurate for their own reasons,” Turgeman told army veterans and reservists during an event at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Turgeman also addressed Samia’s allegations concerning the awards given out to soldiers following Protective Edge.

For months, Samia has been criticizing the 72 medals of honor awarded to soldiers for their service during the operation, even calling that number “absurd” during a conference about the operation in November.

Sergeant Chalachew Mekonen receives a citation for service during Operation Protective Edge from Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Sergeant Chalachew Mekonen receives a citation for service during Operation Protective Edge from Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

He again attacked that number on Sunday, calling it “scandalous” and a “festival of medals,” and asserting, “All of this is to cover something up.”

To those comments, Turgeman appeared to take particular umbrage, especially in light of the upcoming Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers.

“Today, in a foolish statement, there was an attempt to besmirch the medals of honor — two days before Remembrance Day,” he said.

Addressing the recipients of the medals, he added: “I am proud of you, and shame on whoever comes to slander you.”

According to media sources who saw the 70-page comptroller report last week, it accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon of failing to provide the security cabinet with real-time updates regarding the then-imminent threat of war with Hamas, or the danger posed by the terror group’s system of cross-border attack tunnels.

Lt. Gen. (res) Benny Gantz speaks with then Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, center, and Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir during Operation Protective Edge on August 2, 2014 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Lt. Gen. (res) Benny Gantz speaks with then Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, center, and Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir during Operation Protective Edge on August 2, 2014 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The prime minister and the defense minister are also said to have concealed warnings from the Shin Bet security agency, which raised the potential for war with Hamas in early July 2014, according to Channel 10. The conflict began on July 8, 2014.

In the draft report, Shapira also reportedly slams then IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz for the IDF’s lack of operational readiness and planning vis-a-vis the tunnel threat.

Those tunnels were used during the war on a number of occasions to ambush IDF soldiers, to devastating effect.

During the conflict, 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed, while approximately 2,000 Gazans died, some 50 percent of them civilians — though the exact figures remain mired in controversy nearly two years later, with Palestinians putting the civilian casualty rate closer to 70% and Israelis calculating it to be 36%.

Soldiers from the Givati Brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas 'attack tunnel' on July 23, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flash90)
Soldiers from the Givati Brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas ‘attack tunnel’ on July 23, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Flash90)

The draft of the comptroller’s report came amid fears of another conflict in the south after several days of exchanges near the border, following announcements by the IDF that it had discovered two cross-border attack tunnels.

A Palestinian woman was killed Thursday when Israeli tank shells hit her home east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, the southern city’s Nasser hospital said.

The Israeli fire came in response to a spate of mortar attacks on troops along the Gaza border fence last week.

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