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IDF: Soldier whose gun was stolen put up a fight, is cleared of wrongdoing

Military probe comes after head of elite commando unit appeared to denounce trooper, call for him to be drummed out

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

Members of the elite Egoz unit take part in an exercise in Cyprus in June 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)
Members of the elite Egoz unit take part in an exercise in Cyprus in June 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

A military probe cleared a commando soldier whose gun was stolen by two thieves last week, finding that he tried to fight off the assailants but was caught off-guard.

“The investigation did not find evidence of moral failing in the actions of the soldier, despite the result of his weapon being stolen, as he did not understand that he was in danger until [the assailants] began to attack him,” the military said.

In the predawn hours of last Thursday, the soldier, a member of the elite Egoz Unit, was doing a solo navigation exercise in northern Israel when two men drove up to him and offered him a ride. He refused.

“The investigation found that during the solo navigation, the soldier saw two suspicious civilians in the area who tried to make contact with him. The soldier walked away from the area, ignored the two and continued with the navigation as the suspects drove away from him,” the military said.

“After a few minutes, the suspects surprised the soldier and started to forcefully strike him. After an extended fight, the soldier took an ammunition magazine out of his vest in order to load his weapon. At this point, the suspects, who were injured, stole the gun and fled the scene,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

The soldier, who sustained light injuries to his head and body, immediately reported the incident to his commanders, and they tried to chase after the assailants, but lost them.

The investigation did not find evidence of moral failing in the actions of the soldier

“From the findings of the probe, all of the testimonies and from the police investigation determined that the soldier fought his assailants aggressively with all his strength,” the military said.

In a statement shortly after the encounter, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said he viewed the incident very seriously, adding that “a red line has been crossed.”

On Monday, the two suspected assailants were arrested, along with three people suspected of assisting them.

The findings of the military’s internal probe appeared to directly contradict the harsh denunciation of the soldier by the commander of the Egoz Unit, who appeared to call for his removal from the detachment before later scaling back his criticism.

Following the incident, the commander — whose name is classified — sent a message to officers in the unit saying that “any soldier who doesn’t know how to defeat two assailants using Krav Maga and whose gun gets stolen has no place in Egoz.”

After blowback for the hasty excoriation, which was issued before an investigation was completed, the Egoz commander sent out a follow-up statement, saying the media had taken his comments out of context, and that he had never called for the soldier to be kicked out.

In addition to clearing the soldier, the investigation also found that his commanders had properly prepared troops for the solo navigation exercise and that the rules of engagement were not an issue in this case.

The theft of guns has long been an issue for the military. As a result, in recent years the IDF has invested millions of shekels in advanced security systems for armories.

According to data released by the Knesset in 2020, there are some 400,000 illegal weapons in Israel. Former public security minister Gilad Erdan estimated that 70 percent of the illegal weapons were stolen from the army and police force.

Arab Israeli policymakers often criticize the police for not doing enough to crack down on illegal weapons, saying that they know where the weapons are and choose to do nothing, but police officials say the matter isn’t so simple.

On Monday, the government approved a NIS 150 million ($45 million) plan to combat the spread of violence and organized crime in Arab cities and towns, including two arms-gathering operations.

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