A military investigation into the death of a senior officer last month during a gun battle with two Palestinians in the northern West Bank pointed to “errors” made by troops, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday.
The officer, Maj. Bar Falah, 30, the deputy commander of the elite Nahal reconnaissance unit, was killed in the clash at the West Bank security barrier near the Palestinian village of Jalamah on September 14, during an attempt to arrest the two gunmen.
According to the IDF’s final probe, the two gunmen were detected shortly before midnight by soldiers operating surveillance cameras, some 15-20 meters from a military post in the so-called seam zone between the West Bank and Israel proper.
Soldiers stationed in the area began an arrest procedure, which included shouting toward the suspects, firing into the air, and hurling a stun grenade at them.
The suspects did not respond to the soldiers, who also did not know they were armed and planning an attack.
Meanwhile, the commander of the IDF’s Menashe Brigade, Col. Arik Moyal, and Falah and his soldiers were dispatched to the scene.
As the pair were spotted again in the early morning hours, Moyal’s team pushed forward from the fence area and Falah’s team began to crawl behind them, seeking to apprehend them.
The two gunmen then opened fire at the troops, who were just several meters away. Falah was hit and critically hurt, but still managed to fire several rounds back before he died, according to the probe.
The two gunmen were killed in the subsequent firefight. The pair were armed with a Carlo makeshift submachine gun and another makeshift semiautomatic weapon, according to the IDF.
The gunmen were named by Palestinian media as Ahmed Abed and Abdul Rahman Abed, from the village of Kafr Dan near Jenin. Ahmed was an officer in the PA security services.
The military suspected the two were planning to ambush troops stationed at the nearby post, and waited after first being detected in order to find a more opportune moment for an attack.
The military investigation praised troops for “succeeding in their defense task and thwarting an attack on the Israeli home front, at the painful price of Maj. Bar Falah falling.”
The IDF probe also noted the fast medical treatment Falah’s signal operator gave him at the scene while under fire, as well as medical forces who later reached the scene. “The treatment at the scene was professional and fast, but due to the nature of his injury, his life could not be saved,” the IDF said.
However, the IDF noted that “errors” were made when it came to “the method the force chose to isolate the area where the terrorists were.”
“Despite its unfortunate results, this is an event in which an attack was thwarted and harm to civilians was avoided,” said IDF chief Aviv Kohavi in remarks published by the military.
“The behavior of the forces during the incident, from the commanders, including the late Maj. Bar Falah, through the brigade commander, to the last of the soldiers, is an example of courage and determination,” Kohavi said.
“However, during the battle several errors were made, which must be studied in depth and used in order to prevent the recurrence of such cases,” he added.
The military on Wednesday notified the gunmen’s families that the military intends to demolish their homes.
They can appeal the demolition order to Israel’s High Court of Justice, but such attempts rarely succeed. However, in some cases, the court can limit the demolition order to only the parts of the house used by the assailants.
Israel defends the contentious practice of razing the family homes of attackers as a deterrent against future assaults, and officials have argued that speed is essential, claiming that the deterrent factor degrades over time.
Over the years, however, a number of Israeli defense officials have questioned the efficacy of the practice, and human rights activists have denounced it as unfair collective punishment.
Tensions in the West Bank have spiked in recent months, as the IDF launched major arrest operations after a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people earlier this year.
Another Israeli woman was killed in a suspected attack last month, and another four soldiers — including Falah — have been killed in the West Bank in attacks and during the arrest operations.
In recent months, Palestinian gunmen — mostly members of the Nablus-based Lion’s Den group — have repeatedly targeted military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements and civilians on the roads.
The anti-terror offensive launched earlier this year has netted more than 2,000 arrests in near-nightly raids in Palestinian cities, towns, and villages. It has also left more than 120 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — in the act of carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.