IDF removes several soldiers from combat duty over response to terror attack

Investigation into March shooting by Palestinian gunman who killed Israeli soldier and rabbi in West Bank finds troops at scene did not act as expected of them

IDF soldiers respond to a shooting attack near the Ariel Junction in the northern West Bank on March 17, 2019. (B'Lev Hadashot)
IDF soldiers respond to a shooting attack near the Ariel Junction in the northern West Bank on March 17, 2019. (B'Lev Hadashot)

Several soldiers have been taken off combat duties because of their poor response to a March terror attack in which another soldier and a rabbi were shot dead, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday.

The results of an investigation into the West Bank shootings, carried out at two locations by a Palestinian gunman, were recently presented to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

“A number of soldiers who were involved in the incident and didn’t act as expected from combat servicemen during a terror attack were removed from combat duties,” the army said in a statement.

On March 17, Omar Abu Laila fatally stabbed Sgt. Gal Keidan at the Ariel Junction outside the West Bank settlement of the same name, grabbed the soldier’s gun and opened fire, hitting Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, before stealing his vehicle and fleeing the scene. Keidan had tried to wrestle with the gunman, despite his injuries, and Ettinger had opened fire on Laila with a pistol before being fatally wounded.

Laila then drove to the nearby Gitai junction, where he opened fire again, wounding soldier Alexander Dvorsky, before fleeing on foot into the nearby village of Burqin.

IDF soldier Gal Keidan, who was killed in a stabbing and shooting attack by a Palestinian terrorist in the northern West Bank on March 17, 2019. (IDF Spokesperson)

“The investigation revealed various operational failures relating to the discipline of the force, actions that were lacking in preparing them for their mission, and the control of commanders,” the statement said, referring to soldiers who were on patrol duty at the two locations when the attack happened.

Kohavi “pointed to the fact that the force behaved poorly during the incident itself and did not carry out what was expected of fighters at the scene of an attack,” the IDF said, but commended Keidan for struggling with the terrorist before he died and also Ettinger for trying to shoot Laila.

In the wake of the investigation, a series of measures were implemented, including reprimands issued to the battalion commander of the force at the scene as well as to the soldiers’ commander, who has since been released from the army, the statement said. His future service in the reserves will also be reviewed.

Keidan was declared dead at the scene and Ettinger, a father of 12, succumbed to his wounds a day later.

Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, who was shot March 17 at the Ariel junction and succumbed to his injuries the following day (Nadav Goldstein/TPS)

Abu Laila was killed in a shootout with troops near Ramallah later that week, following a several-day manhunt. In April security forces destroyed his West Bank home near the West Bank town of Salfit.

“Following this incident and other incidents, a series of lessons were learned regarding the combat fitness and operational sharpness of the Judea and Samaria Division,” the army said, referring to the division responsible for security in the West Bank.

“In this context, it was decided that steps will be taken to improve the fighters’ professional and mental abilities, and further actions will be taken to improve the infrastructure in the area,” it added.

Kohavi also received an assessment of the intelligence operation and hunt for the gunman. He praised the various bodies involved, which also drew on lessons learned from previous manhunts, the army said.

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