IDF chief said to halt outside team’s probe of Oct. 7 failures after political rebuke

Report says Herzi Halevi has frozen formation of team of former military generals, which was slammed by right-wingers over timing and staffing of the investigation

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi issues a video statement, January 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi issues a video statement, January 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Following political criticism, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has reportedly frozen the formation of an outside investigative team to examine the army’s operational failures in the lead-up to Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

The Ynet news site reported Thursday morning that Halevi had halted the panel’s work until the IDF concludes its internal probes of the events. There was no immediate comment or confirmation from the IDF.

The team was to include former IDF chief and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, former Military Intelligence Directorate head Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, former Southern Command leader Sami Turgeman and former Operations Directorate chief Yoav Har-Even.

The probe, announced earlier this month, was meant to draw operational conclusions for the military, and not to look into the policies of the political leadership.

But the appointments — particularly of Mofaz, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government over its judicial overhaul efforts — led to rebukes from right-wing ministers, amid apparent concern the team could also assign blame to politicians. Mofaz was also singled out for his role in the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, which angered far-right members of the coalition.

Several security cabinet meetings meant to discuss strategic planning for postwar Gaza devolved instead into loud and angry dustups between ministers and military brass, with right-wing lawmakers crying foul over the plans for the army to probe its own mistakes.

Shaul Mofaz speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The brawls saw right-wing politicians, including some from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, take aim at Halevi over both the timing of the inquest and the inclusion of officials anathema to them and many of their voters.

The feuds brought to the surface long-simmering tensions between the military and some in the hard-right coalition over Israeli policies vis à vis the Palestinians.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir reacted Thursday to Ynet’s report, saying he was “happy that my stance has been accepted” and claiming that letting Mofaz and Farkash probe the military failures was “like letting the cat guard the cream — these are people whose own deeds must be probed, not the other way around.”

On Wednesday, Halevi penned a letter to the state comptroller asking him to delay the latter’s separate planned investigation into the multiple failures that occurred before, during and after the October 7 massacre.

“The IDF is in the midst of an unprecedented war. The audit will divert the attention of the commanders from the fighting, will damage operational investigation ability, and will not allow drawing necessary lessons to achieve the goals of the war,” Halevi told Matanyahu Englman in the letter.

Left: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023; right: Israeli State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman walk at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2022. (Flash90)

“There is no precedent for holding such a review during the war,” he said.

“Accordingly, I will request that the date of the start of the audit be determined in a way that will enable the IDF to devote the proper attention and resources,” Halevi added.

In December, Englman said his office would “leave no stone unturned” in its investigation.

Englman said his office will look into all aspects of the “multi-system failures,” including examining those with “personal responsibility” for the “failures on all levels — policy, military and civilian.” The probe will make up the lion’s share of the agency’s activities over 2024, he said, indicating that it would supersede quarterly reports on other aspects of the state’s functioning.

Among the issues to be reviewed by the comptroller’s office were the conduct of the government’s security cabinet; the conduct of policymakers and the military on October 7 itself; intelligence preparedness before October 7; the defense posture on the Gaza border before the Hamas invasion; the preparedness of the civilian security squads in the Gaza border region before the war; the funding of Hamas; and the lack of equipment for IDF soldiers, he said.

Hamas terrorists near Kibbutz Nir Oz during the massacre on October 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

His office was also set to study the government’s actions following the outbreak of war, including how civilians from the south and north were relocated; the evacuation of the injured and the collection and identification of the bodies of the victims; the rights of those harmed in the attack and their ability to access those rights; and the government’s public diplomacy activities.

Thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on October 7, carrying out a murderous rampage of unprecedented intensity and breadth. In the hours before the IDF could mount a response, some 1,200 people were killed and 253 people were kidnapped, many of whom remain hostage in Gaza.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas and win the hostages’ freedom. Hamas and other terror groups, including those in Lebanon, have continued firing rockets at Israel, displacing up to 200,000 people from their homes near the borders.

Emanuel Fabian and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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