IDF chief pushes safety after punishing officers for soldier’s death
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IDF chief pushes safety after punishing officers for soldier’s death

Vowing hard line on discipline, Kohavi says that more important than training exercises is commanders’ responsibility to bring troops home safely

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

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in central Israel on March 11, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in central Israel on March 11, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi stressed the importance of safety and the adherence to relevant protocols in a speech on Monday, following his decision to dismiss five officers for failing to prevent the drowning of a soldier during a navigation exercise earlier this year.

“Learning and exercises are meant to fulfill missions in times of war and times of peace and achieve victory on the battlefield. But there is another order that we must consider: ensuring the safety and security of our soldiers,” Kohavi said, speaking at a ceremony for the incoming head of the Israel Defense Forces’ military colleges.

The speech came the morning after Kohavi dismissed five officers and formally censured the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade over the drowning death of Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20, on January 7.

“If orders were violated or instructions were not carried out — we will raise a red flag. We will not accept this; we won’t be ambiguous or shirk responsibility,” Kohavi said Monday.

Paratrooper Evyatar Yosefi, 20, drowned during a training exercise in northern Israel on January 7, 2018. (Facebook)

On Sunday, the military chief was presented with the findings of an internal army probe of the event, which found a series of significant failures throughout the chain of command that the military said were the ultimate cause of the serviceman’s death.

Yosefi, 20, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Shmuel, died while trying to cross the Hilazon Stream during a training exercise, with the waterway swollen by recent rains.

Rescue forces search for a soldier who was swept away in the Hilazon stream in northern Israel on January 7, 2019. (Israel Police)

The military’s investigation into Yosefi’s death found that his commanders had failed to adequately prepare for the inclement weather and its effects on the ground.

An ongoing Military Police investigation into Yosefi’s death will determine if any criminal charges are to be filed against his commanders.

Kohavi’s decision to discharge the five officers up the chain of command — from Yosefi’s team leader to his battalion commander — was the army chief’s first major disciplinary action since taking over the position in January.

In a statement Sunday, Kohavi accused the officers of unprofessional and, in some cases, immoral, conduct, a theme he continued on Monday.

“There is a difference between an accident and error, and therefore the rule is singular and clear: accidents caused by a mistake in judgment — we will back you up. But judgment that deviates from the realm of sensibility or an error that comes from failing to carry out orders — those we will condemn,” Kohavi said.

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