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IDF chief censures officers over Hezbollah strike, but finds army operated well

Military releases results of investigation into September 1 attack by Lebanese terror group, in which anti-tank missiles were fired at military vehicle, base, causing no injuries

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

Footage from Hezbollah's Al-Manar television network showing a September 1, 2019, missile strike against an Israeli military vehicle near the northern border, broadcast on September 2. (Twitter, screen capture)
Footage from Hezbollah's Al-Manar television network showing a September 1, 2019, missile strike against an Israeli military vehicle near the northern border, broadcast on September 2. (Twitter, screen capture)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi censured two officers and called for disciplinary meetings for two others over their conduct during an anti-tank guided missile attack by Hezbollah terror group on an Israeli military vehicle and base the previous month, the army said Sunday.

On September 1, the Iran-backed terror group launched three anti-tank missiles from southern Lebanon, with one striking the Avivim army base near the border and two aimed at an armored medical vehicle carrying five soldiers that was traveling on a road that was meant to be cleared of military personnel. According to the Israeli military, the Hezbollah attack caused no injuries and minimal damage.

In the preceding days, the Israel Defense Forces had been aware of Hezbollah’s intentions to carry out an attack in retaliation for both an Israeli airstrike on pro-Iranian forces in Syria in which two Hezbollah members were killed, and a drone attack that reportedly targeted critical Hezbollah weapons-making equipment in Beirut that was attributed to Israel.

Knowing that Hezbollah planned to retaliate, the IDF Northern Command ordered a series of precautionary measures in order to prevent Israeli casualties, including forbidding military vehicles from traveling on roads near the Lebanese border and altering its deployments in bases near the security fence, in an operation known as “Between the Straits” or in Hebrew as “Bein Hameitzarim.”

The apparent remains of an anti-tank missile that was fired by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, near the northern moshav of Avivim, September 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Following the Hezbollah attack, the IDF launched an intensive investigation into the attack and the Northern Command’s preparations. The military released the general findings of the probe on Sunday.

Kohavi found that the IDF largely operated properly ahead of the attack, with the exception of the entrance of the armored ambulance to a road that had a clear line of sight to Lebanon.

“The chief of staff concludes that the ‘Between the Straits’ preparations accomplished their goals. At the same time, the chief of staff determined that the entrance of a military vehicle to travel on a roadway that is [under threat] by an anti-tank guided missile by the enemy constituted a severe operational error,” the army said.

The commander of the artillery battalion stationed in the Avivim base and his deputy were both officially censured by Kohavi, the army said.

The battalion commander, ordered to evacuate the base and leave it guarded, was found to have done so not according to protocol, and the deputy commander was censured for allowing the medical vehicle to travel on the road despite warnings of an impending Hezbollah attack.

An Israeli soldier secures the village of Avivim on the Israel-Lebanon border, September 2, 2019 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The two anti-tank guided missiles that Hezbollah fired at the vehicle narrowly missed their target, hitting the roadway instead. If the projectiles had struck the armored ambulance, which was carrying five soldiers, they would have likely been able to penetrate its defenses and injure or kill those inside — a development that would have prompted a massive retaliation by the IDF and could have led to full-scale war with Hezbollah, according to Israeli officials.

Though they will not face formal punishments, the commander of the Baram Regional Brigade Col. Ro’i Levy and more junior officers in the artillery battalion stationed in the area were also ordered to hold “clarifying conversations” with their commanders, the army said.

“The findings of the investigation identified lacunae in the command and control processes of the battalion during the preparations, and that approval was given to the military vehicle to travel along the roadway by the deputy battalion commander despite his commanders’ orders on the matter,” the army said.

“In addition, the investigation found that the regional brigade did not carry out the appropriate monitoring [of the situation] and that there were lacunae in the oversight over transportation along the roadways.”

Despite these failings in the execution of the Northern Command’s plans, Kohavi’s investigation found that the plans themselves were sound, the army said.

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