In rare move, IDF to list former intel officer who died in jail as fallen soldier

Panel headed by ex-general isn’t investigating Tav’s mysterious death while awaiting charges, but recommends military chief Kohavi to accept family’s request

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

Israelis protest outside the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv, calling to release information about a Military Intelligence officer who died in prison, on June 7, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90/File)
Israelis protest outside the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv, calling to release information about a Military Intelligence officer who died in prison, on June 7, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90/File)

The Israel Defense Forces on Monday said it was recognizing as a fallen soldier a Military Intelligence officer who died under mysterious circumstances while in jail facing security charges, though he was longer enlisted at the time of his death in 2021.

The officer — known as Senior Academic Officer “Tav,” the first initial of his Hebrew name and his rank (the equivalent of captain) — was jailed under accusations of grave security offenses.

He was found dead in his cell in May 2021, but there was no clear sign of the cause of his death. An autopsy in Israel, as well as a blood test at a specialized forensic laboratory in the United States, were inconclusive. A lengthy police review of the military’s first probe later determined that he was not killed by “a deliberate act” committed by another person.

A new external probe was launched in November into the incidents surrounding the mysterious death, and to potentially recognize him as a fallen soldier, as his family has urged. Tav did not receive a military burial, as he was released from service while under arrest.

The panel, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, the former head of IDF Operations, recommended that, even though Tav’s military service ended several months before he died and that he had “committed serious acts,” he should be recognized as if he had been enlisted until his death.

“The panel gave great weight to the fact that the officer died in a military prison and was under military custody, and in fact, from the day of his enlistment until his death, he was in a military setting. In accord with the fact that this is a unique and unusual case, the committee believed that there is room for compassionate considerations, and giving weight to his family’s request regarding his memorialization,” the IDF said.

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of the IDF Central Command, in Tel Aviv, May 13, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Military chief Aviv Kohavi said he accepted the panel’s recommendation, and Tav would be recognized as a fallen soldier.

The logo of the IDF and his military ID number are expected to be added to his gravestone, and Tav’s family would be eligible for benefits from the Defense Ministry.

“This is a complex ethical issue, which requires a balance to be drawn between the great seriousness of the officer’s actions, the security damage caused, and the fact that he was properly discharged from service,” Kohavi said.

He added that the decision was made due to the IDF seeking to “expand responsibility toward its soldiers” and the requests of the officer’s parents.

The new panel also examined the screening process of intelligence officers and other aspects of Tav’s service until his arrest, including “oversight mechanisms” in the unit he served in. It also addressed the way the army implemented lessons learned from the incident.

It did not, however, further investigate the causes of Tav’s death. A second IDF probe into his death is in its final stages and its findings (expected to again be inconclusive) will be presented to the military prosecution in the near future, the IDF said.

The officer’s family and lawyer were updated on the decision, the IDF said.

Benny Kuznitz, attorney for the family of a Military Intelligence officer who died in custody last month, speaks to reporters before a hearing in a military court in IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2021. (Flash90)

The officer, who served in a Military Intelligence technology unit, was facing expected charges for nearly two dozen offenses, as well as a likely 10-year-or-longer prison sentence. IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi said the officer had nearly caused damage to a state secret, but the damage was prevented at the last minute, following his arrest.

He was being held in prison while his attorneys and military prosecutors were negotiating a potential plea deal. On the night of May 16, 2021, he was found in serious condition in his cell and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Though no official cause of death has been determined according to the IDF, military officials indicated off the record it appeared to be a suicide.

Tav’s full name and picture are barred from publication by the IDF military censor.

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