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IDF chief reprimands brigadier general for unapproved call with Bennett

Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter formally chastised for the illicit conversation with the presumed PM-to-be, to whom he’s been accused of leaking military information in the past

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

Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi formally reprimanded a top officer on Wednesday after he spoke with Yamina party leader and presumptive prime minister-to-be Naftali Bennett without permission.

The unauthorized conversation between Bennett and Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, commander of the 98th Division, was first revealed in an article in the Israel Hayom newspaper on Tuesday. After the story was published, the Israel Defense Forces said it would investigate.

Under military protocol, officers are forbidden from communicating with elected officials without approval from their commanding officers. This is meant to prevent potentially involving the military in partisan fights.

On Wednesday, the head of the IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai — Winter’s commanding officer — presented his findings of the incident to Kohavi, confirming that the conversation took place.

“The chief of staff called the officer for a clarification conversation and decided to give him a formal reprimand in light of the restriction on direct contacts between service members and elected officials,” the IDF said in a statement.

Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

This was not the first time that Winter has been accused of illicitly coordinating with Bennett. He also did so during the 2014 Gaza war when he was the commander of the Givati Brigade and Bennett was education minister. At the time, Winter was accused of providing Bennett with sensitive military information during a meeting, bypassing the proper Defense Ministry channels. Bennett and Winter have been friends for decades and served together in the military.

Winter also served as military secretary to Bennett when he was defense minister, as well as to his predecessor Avigdor Liberman and for a short time to his successor Benny Gantz.

He has been reportedly considered for the role of military secretary to Bennett should the Yamina leader indeed become prime minister as he is slated to do next week following a confidence vote in the Knesset scheduled for Sunday. It is not clear, however, if Winter — who fought to become a field commander after a number of staff roles — will agree to return to a government office.

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