IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has rescinded the nomination of Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris to command the army’s Operations Division amid an ongoing investigation into rape allegations against the officer, the military announced on Thursday.
Buchris has been accused of at least five counts of rape, in addition to sodomy and sexual assault, by two female former soldiers.
Last Monday, the brigadier general was suspended from his position for two weeks, but Eisenkot extended that suspension by an additional month as the investigation continues, an IDF spokesperson said on Thursday.
The decision to cancel Buchris’s appointment as the head of the Operations Division, a major position within the IDF, was made due to the realization that the investigation into the case will take “not days, but months,” an IDF spokesperson said.
“The decision does not have to do with the [content of the] investigation, which is ongoing, but under the understanding that the head of the Operations Division is a core position in the IDF’s operations and the investigation will take time,” the official said.
Buchris’s IDF-provided attorney, Col. Asher Halperin, said he understoon and supported Eisenkot’s decision, as investigations like this “by their very nature, take a long time.”
“As the chief of staff explained in his conversation with Brig.-Gen. Buchris, it was difficult to wait to appoint a new head of the Operations Division, a central and sensitive position,” Halperin said in a statement.
“The chief of staff’s decision came only from the issue of the investigation’s expected duration,” Halperin said.
Buchris was supposed to take over the position from Brig. Gen. Aharon Haliva this month, but Eisenkot will now have to find a different replacement.
The position is generally seen as a steppingstone to higher office, as the brigadier general who serves in the role manages the army’s most important missions and works closely with the IDF General Staff. Indeed, many chiefs of the general staff have served in the position, including Gabi Ashkenazi, as have many major generals who currently serve on the General Staff.
“The chief of staff will now begin the process of nominating a new head of the Operations Division,” an IDF spokesperson said.
Two soldiers who served in Buchris’s office when he served as head of the Golani Brigade, from 2010 to 2012, have accused him of rape, sodomy and sexual assault.
Under Israeli law, sodomy constitutes either oral or anal sex when the man “exploits his authority in the workplace or in (national) service.”
According to his first accuser, whose testimony sparked the investigation, the acts were committed over an extended period of time. “There was no romance here, it was sexual exploitation,” the woman’s attorney said.
The first accuser’s father spoke out against Buchris and the entire military hierarchy, telling reporters: “The system failed, including (as regards) a decorated officer who committed rape. It is a disgrace that a commander like this who wears the (Golani) beret, who wears a kippah, does not take responsibility.”
Buchris’s name was initially banned from publication, but the gag order was lifted last week.
Soon after his name was released, the second woman came forward and accused Buchris of sexual assault.
Buchris has flatly denied the allegations against him and said he had never had any sexual contact with the woman.
“Brig.-Gen. Buchris is convinced that the investigation will end with his name cleared, so that he can get back to his life and his important military work,” Halperin, his attorney, said on Thursday.
During a special hearing convened at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, his attorneys submitted two polygraph tests to the court in support of his innocence, and requested the defendant’s identity remain under gag order. The lie detection tests indicated he was telling the truth, according to the TV report.
Some military officials and politicians have come forward to defend Buchris, who had been awarded a citation for bravery during the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield.
“I know that it isn’t popular during these times to say that I hope Ofek is found innocent in this case,” MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) wrote on Facebook this week. “I may be attacked by women’s groups over my defense, but I thought about it all weekend and I couldn’t hold back my personal opinion on Ofek.”
In a Facebook post, Ben Ari said she knew Buchris personally from her army service and he always “acted respectfully and modestly toward women.”
Buchris has already been questioned a number of times by IDF Military Police, and the investigation will continue, the IDF spokesperson said.