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IDF general previously censured over troop deaths tapped to lead West Bank division

Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf was rebuked after paratrooper recruit and reconnaissance soldier under his command were killed in separate accidents during training exercises in 2019

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Col. Yaki Dolf, then-commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, at a military ceremony in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Col. Yaki Dolf, then-commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, at a military ceremony in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

A general reprimanded over the deaths of two soldiers in separate incidents was chosen Monday to head Israeli military forces in the West Bank.

Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf, who currently serves as military secretary to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, had his promotion delayed for a year over the death of Ron Oved, 18, during a tryout for the Paratroopers Brigade in 2019, and a flawed investigation into the event.

That same year Dolf, who commanded the paratroops, also received an official censure on his record over the drowning of Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20, during a navigation exercise.

Dolf will replace Brig. Gen. Avi Blot, the current commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Judea and Samaria Division, in the coming months, the military said.

The IDF and Gantz have not yet named a new military secretary for the defense minister. Gantz must still give final approval to the appointment.

Dolf has moved up the IDF’s ranks despite the series of reprimands over deadly incidents in 2019.

On April 11, a bus that was parked on an incline above tents in which a group of recruits were sleeping — in clear violation of IDF protocol — rolled down the hill into the structure, killing Oved, 18, and injuring five others.

Ron Eliyahu Oved, right, and his father. Oved was killed in an accident during a tryout for the IDF Paratroopers Brigade on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy of the family)

The military’s initial investigation, which was completed within two months, blamed Oved’s death squarely on the bus driver and the company that hired him, deeming the incident a vehicular accident rather than a training accident.

No one in the military was punished over the incident. The bus driver was charged with negligent manslaughter.

The Military Police conducted its own investigation into Oved’s death, finding that the initial investigation was woefully insufficient, failing to look at larger issues of how the Paratroopers Brigade conducts tryouts for recruits and how safety protocols were apparently ignored.

In light of the Military Police probe and a report in the Haaretz newspaper around the same time, which included claims by Oved’s family that the military had failed to adequately look into the case, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered an additional investigation into the event itself and into the way it was examined.

The final investigation found that the first probe was “insufficient and did not expose all of the lacunae,” Kohavi said last year. Two brigadier generals — including Dolf — were formally reprimanded and a third was called to a disciplinary hearing.

Paratroopers take part in an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group in September 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Three months earlier, on January 7, 2019, the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion was hiking around the Hilazon stream near the northern city of Karmiel, working in pairs to learn how to navigate and survive in the wilderness.

During the navigation exercise, Yosefi and his comrade received the order over the radio that the unit was regrouping. As they made their way to the designated spot, the pair came to the Hilazon stream, which was swollen from the previous night’s rainfall.

They decided to cross the stream, but Yosefi slipped on the muddy riverbank as he got to the other side, falling into the water. His partner threw him a rope, but the paratrooper could not hold onto it, and was swept away. His body was found several hours later.

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

A military advocate general probe into Yosefi’s death found that his officers failed to adequately prepare for the inclement weather and its effects on the ground and had ignored safety instructions.

Several of them were indicted and dismissed from their positions over the death, and Dolf, who commanded the brigade, was censured.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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