IDF chief reprimands officers of soldiers killed in accident
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IDF chief reprimands officers of soldiers killed in accident

Sgt. Shlomo Rindenow and Staff Sgt. Hussam Tafesh died when grenade Tafesh was ‘playing with’ detonated, military official says

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

IDF soldiers and medical personnel at the site of an accidental grenade explosion near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on July 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)
IDF soldiers and medical personnel at the site of an accidental grenade explosion near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on July 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JALAA MAREY)

The commanding officers of two soldiers killed in an accidental grenade blast were punished Tuesday, in accordance with an order from IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, a military official said.

On July 17, Sgt. Shlomo Rindenow, 20, and Staff Sgt. Hussam Tafesh, 24, of the 601st Combat Engineering Battalion were killed when a grenade Tafesh had been “playing with” detonated at an army post on the Golan Heights, according to a military official. Three others were also wounded.

Though the army would not initially state which of the two had been handling the grenade, it was later clarified that Tafesh had been the one holding it at the time of the explosion. A Military Police investigation into the incident is ongoing, and additional information may come out in the future, the official said.

The soldiers’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ziv Namni, and their platoon commander were both formally reprimanded, while the company commander, who got out of the army soon after the incident, has been barred from commanding troops in reserves for the next three years, according to the official, who asked to not be named.

The incident occurred around 7 a.m., when Tafesh drove an army jeep up to a military outpost at the entrance to the northern Druze village of Majdal Shams.

Staff Sgt. Hussam Tafesh,who was killed on July 17, 2016, when a grenade he was holding apparently discharged accidentally at an IDF base on the Golan Heights (via Facebook)
Staff Sgt. Hussam Tafesh,who was killed on July 17, 2016, when a grenade he was holding apparently discharged accidentally at an IDF base on the Golan Heights (via Facebook)

Tafesh, a Druze soldier from Beit Jann, then exited the vehicle while holding the grenade, the army said, and went to talk to Rindenow, a lone soldier originally from New Jersey, who was standing at the entrance to the post. The grenade then exploded, killing them both.

“The after-action review concluded that one of them had been playing with the grenade, which had been left at the location and was found by one of the people in the jeep,” the military official said.

Shlomo Rindenow (Facebook)
Shlomo Rindenow (Facebook)

In response to the incident, Eisenkot ordered that within the next two weeks, all soldiers on operational duty will have to review “how to deal with this dangerous ammunition,” the military official said.

The three other soldiers wounded in the blast were inside the jeep when the grenade exploded. One of them, the patrol commander who was sitting in the passenger seat with the door open, sustained moderate to serious wounds. The other two soldiers, who were sitting in the backseat, sustained light to moderate injuries.

All three were taken by helicopter to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

At Tafesh’s funeral, he was remembered by his brother as “an amazing person,” who was “always smiling and willing to help anyone. He was always there for me and would talk to me when I needed advice.”

About 500 people attended the funeral of American-born soldier Sgt. Shlomo Rindenow, July 18, 2016. (Ben Drori/FLASH90)
About 500 people attended the funeral of American-born soldier Sgt. Shlomo Rindenow, July 18, 2016. (Ben Drori/FLASH90)

Rindenow, who was one of five brothers who moved to Israel and served in the army, was described as being “full of life. He never complained and was always smiling. He enlisted to be an example to us and the rest of the world to show that this is what Jews do,” Rindenow’s oldest brother, Menachem Rindenow, said tearfully at the funeral.

On Monday evening, an IDF soldier was seriously injured when he was struck by the turret of the Merkava IV tank in which he was riding in the Shizafon training base in southern Israel, the army said.

The condition of the soldier remained serious as of Tuesday afternoon. He was sedated and hooked up to a ventilator in the intensive care unit, the NRG news site reported.

The head of the IDF’s Ground Forces Command opened two investigations into that incident, an “investigation of experts,” led by the head of the command’s armored department, Col. Amitai Brinn, and an “operational investigation,” led by Col. Amir Epstein, head of the army’s Armored Corps school.

All training exercises with the Merkava IV were suspended until Epstein’s investigation has been completed, the army said.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

An initial version of the story did not indicate which of the two soldiers had been holding the grenade when it detonated, as the information had not been released. It has since been updated.

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