A company of reservist paratroopers on Thursday urged Transportation Minister Miri Regev to reverse the choice of their former battalion commander, now the head of the Israel Defense Force’s elite Duvdevan unit, as a torch-lighter at Israel’s annual Independence Day ceremony, accusing the officer of lying about an incident during fighting in the Gaza Strip in 2014.
The company’s former commander, identified only by his initials in Hebrew, “Shin Resh,” wrote that Lt. Col. “Daled” falsely claimed that he was injured in the eye during fighting, then waited until the morning to be evacuated from Rafah during Operation Protective Edge. According to the letter, Daled was wounded due to shrapnel when troops blew up a structure, and they were not even engaged in the enemy at that stage.
The IDF has backed Daled’s version of events and Ynet quoted Daled as responding to the accusations as “a complete lie that I am hearing about for the first time now.”
Due to military information security regulations, the head of the elite Duvdevan unit cannot be named or his face shown, meaning he will light a torch and deliver a short address while keeping his face covered up, as has been done in the past.
The letter, signed by 15 soldiers, and reported on by the Ynet news site, described the incident when they came across the entrance to a tunnel near a precast structure on July 19, 2014. At that stage, Daled was not with them. The squad split off, with one group protecting the tunnel while the other swept the area.
“Suddenly, a terrorist came out of the precast structure and began to shoot. In the shooting, Sgt. Bnaya Rubel was injured and later died of his wounds,” the letter read. “The first to arrive at the site was a tank, which fired at the precast structure and demolished it.”
The battalion commander arrived afterward, and the squad once again split up, with one group taking care of Rubel, while the other swept the area.
“When we identified another precast structure, I ordered everyone to lie down and fire at it with a grenade launcher. Daled definitely did not lie down. He remained kneeling and at the moment that we fired at the precast structure, he was hit in the eye and injured by shrapnel,” the letter read.
“In interviews he gave afterward he said he hid the injury from us and continued to fight, and he was only evacuated in the morning,” the letter said, and asserted that all the troops heard him scream when he was wounded.
Soldiers claimed that among the lies told by Daled, were that the squad killed four terrorists before he was evacuated, that they heard explosions, and that a terrorist committed a suicide bombing in front of the structure.
“After being injured he was put on an armored personnel carrier, and within ten minutes he was in Israel. The time was no later than 9 p.m., way before the morning,” Shin Raysh said, adding that in the official retelling of the story, the grenades, and terrorists, were falsely added to the events.
When the troops left Gaza on a break for the first time, Daled contacted Shin Resh, and told him to tell investigators looking into the incident that he was present throughout the entire course of events, according to the letter.
“After two and a half weeks of fighting we were released home, and we were called to a probe in which officers who weren’t even in the area were present. When they understood that another company commander and I would not fall in line with their narrative, they stopped bringing us in,” Shin Resh recalled.
The soldiers said that they didn’t mind that Daled was advancing in the military, but being given the honorary role at the ceremony, which closes Memorial Day and opens Independence Day, was a “red line,” and have therefore decided to speak up. They added that the bereaved Rubel family deserved answers over the incident.
“I have no desire to do harm or prevent him from advancing in the army, I have a desire that the person chosen to be one of the 12 most important people in the country this week, provides the truth and that everyone will know the truth. And if they decide to let him light the torch, or let him be IDF chief of staff, that’s fine. But everyone will know the truth,” the letter read.
In response, the IDF claimed that the letter was not known to them, and praised Daled in a statement.
“Daled is a brave and moral commander that endangered his life many times in order to protect residents of the State of Israel in many combat roles, and will light the torch in the name of IDF soldiers and security forces,” the military said.
IDF Southern Command head Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, who led the Paratroopers Brigade during the 2014 operation, said on Thursday that they extended a “strong and warm embrace” to the Rubel family but sided with Daled’s version of the events.
“Daled was injured by an enemy explosion, or an explosion from a launch from our forces, and lost his eye, and he continued to fight until his medical evacuation. Throughout the stages of the investigation and after it, Lt. Col. Daled did not claim otherwise and there was no fault in his conduct,” Toledano said.
Israel had sent ground troops into Gaza during the seven-week conflict when the IDF clashed with Hamas-led terror groups in the Palestinian enclave. A total of 74 people — 68 IDF soldiers, 11 of whom were killed in cross-border tunnel attacks, and 6 civilians — died on the Israeli side of the conflict. In Gaza, more than 2,000 people were killed, with Israel putting the number of civilians killed at approximately 50 percent, the rest being combatants.
The torch lighting ceremony was already marred with controversy after opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid announced he would not attend the ceremony due to societal divisions he said the government has created due to its radical judicial overhaul program.
Lapid’s decision comes following reports on Tuesday that Regev, who is responsible for the ceremony, plans to cut the live broadcast of the event and switch to a rehearsal recording should the actual torch-lighting ceremony be interrupted by anti-government protestors.