Officer fired, 4 others censured after soldier informant dies by suicide

After probe, IDF chief chides Military Police investigators for their source recruitment methods, reprimands soldier’s commanders for failing to locate him after he went missing

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

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a conference in memory of former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on December 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a conference in memory of former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya on December 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Monday relieved one officer of duty and ordered four more formally censured for their roles in the suicide of a Military Police informant, following the completion of a months-long probe into the incident, the army said.

Last September, two former IDF Military Police officers were indicted for failing to properly report on the mental health of one of their informants, Cpl. Niv Lubaton, a soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade, who was later found dead outside his base in southern Israel.

The two officers, who are still on trial, were attempting to recruit Lubaton, who was in a squad commander training course, to provide information about drug dealing on the army’s Bislah Base in southern Israel in January 2019. Lubaton initially agreed, but called back his handlers an hour and a half later, telling them he wouldn’t do it and indicating he intended to harm himself.

According to the indictment against them, the two never reported this to their commanders, as they were required to do, including after Lubaton went missing from his base. He was found dead shortly thereafter.

A month after the pair were charged, Kohavi ordered a full investigation of the incident by IDF Manpower chief Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz and Ground Forces commander Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick and a separate one into the methods used by the Military Police Investigatory Unit, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym Metzah, to recruit informants by an expert committee led by former Shin Bet officer Arik Barbing. The results of the two probes were presented to Kohavi in recent days, the military said Monday.

Illustrative. An Israeli military police officer, right, directs two imprisoned Israeli soldiers through a door at Prison Four, Israel’s largest military prison, at the Tzrifin military base in central Israel on April 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“This is a most painful and saddening incident, and the Military Police Investigatory Unit must learn lessons and implement them immediately,” Kohavi said in a statement Monday.

The probes found major “errors and mistakes” in the way in which the Military Police and Lubaton’s commanders handled his case, as well as “failures” in the way the Military Police Investigatory Unit recruits informants in general, the IDF said.

In light of the investigation into Lubaton’s death, the army chief ordered the removal of the then-commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s Beersheba station from the unit.

“The officer, who held the rank of major, was removed from Metzah, will not serve in positions of command and he will not be able to be promoted for six years in light of his command responsibility for the incidents,” the IDF said.

In addition, four other officers received official reprimands: the commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s southern division and Lubaton’s three direct commanders in his squad leaders’ course for their failures during the searches for him after he went missing.

“The brigade commander, battalion commander and company commander received official censure for insufficient action during the searches, once it became known that Niv was missing,” the army said.

The military said that despite these censures, there was no evidence that the officers were guilty of “directly or indirectly causing the death of the soldier.”

According to the IDF, the committee investigating the Military Police’s practices in general found a series of “failures in the way that Metzah’s intelligence apparatus operates,” notably in considering the “physical and mental conditions of soldiers.”

The military said the Military Police Investigatory Unit was reviewing and updating its methods for recruiting informants as a result of the probe. The army was also updating its protocols for what to do when soldiers go missing.

“The chief of staff ordered a series of systemic efforts be made, including strengthening Metzah’s intelligence apparatus and its work methods; creating an updated method that details what actions are needed by commanders in the case of one of their soldiers going missing from the unit, specifically regarding the search efforts needed; updating the procedures regarding the steps that should be taken in Metzah in the case of a soldier going missing,” the IDF said.

In his statement, Kohavi stressed that while the Military Police has an “important and central role” in keeping crime out of the IDF, its investigatory efforts must be done “with sensitivity toward, interest in and care for soldiers.”

The two indicted officers, whose cases are still being prosecuted, were charged with making false statements, failing to follow orders and conduct unbecoming of a soldier for not reporting to their commanders that Lubaton had indicated to them that he intended to harm himself.

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