PM recently interviewed Hiram for role of military secretary

Senior IDF officer censured over demolition of Gaza university without approval

IDF finds Israa University was used by Hamas, but Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram didn’t ask Southern Command head for permission to destroy it

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

Before and after photos of Israa University in Gaza that was blown up by the IDF on January 17, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Before and after photos of Israa University in Gaza that was blown up by the IDF on January 17, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The commander of the Israeli military’s 99th Division, Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, was formally censured for the demolition of a university in the Gaza Strip earlier this year without the necessary authorization, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The announcement came as Channel 12 reported that Hiram was recently interviewed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the role of military secretary, though he was said not to be the leading candidate for the role.

The IDF, in response to a query, said the demolition of Israa University on January 17 and the approval process of the controlled explosion was “thoroughly investigated” by the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, and presented to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

“The investigation revealed that the Hamas terror organization used the building and its surroundings for military activity against our forces, but the process of collapsing the building was done without the required approvals,” the IDF said.

According to Army Radio, Hiram claimed that his troops felt in danger due to intelligence that Hamas had a network of tunnels under the university, and feared that its operatives could ambush them.

Hiram did not ask permission from the head of the Southern Command to demolish the building, as he would have been required to do for sensitive sites such as universities.

The IDF said Finkelman rebuked the division commander over the incident.

Army Radio reported that Finkelman told Hiram after the censure, “If you had submitted the request to collapse the university for my approval, I would have approved it.”

The IDF also said the incident would continue to be examined by the General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism, an independent military body responsible for investigating unusual incidents amid the war.

Footage widely shared on social media showed a massive blast at Israa University, prompting US President Joe Biden’s administration to ask Israel for clarification.

While initially giving full-throated support to Israel, there has been growing daylight between Jerusalem and Washington over the war in Gaza, launched in response to the Hamas-led onslaught on October 7, which killed some 1,200 people in Israel and saw 253 kidnapped to the Gaza Strip, mostly civilians.

Commander of the 99th Division Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram in southern Israel on October 11, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Unrelated controversy currently surrounds Hiram over his order to fire a tank shell at a home in the southern community of Be’eri amid a hostage situation during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, possibly killing some of the captives.

The IDF has promised to investigate the incident fully. Last week, the IDF announced it had begun to probe its actions on October 7 and the period leading up to the Hamas attack, including an analysis of the battles that took place during the onslaught, and to look into each unit’s command and control, formations, and orders that were given.

Before the war, Hiram was tapped to be the next commander of the Gaza Division, a move that appears to currently be on hold amid the war and the controversy.

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