Six soldiers to be punished after Lebanese man walked into Israel

Deputy company commander dismissed from position, battalion head censured for failing to prevent border infiltration

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The Lebanese-Israeli border near kibbutz Hanita on March 22, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The Lebanese-Israeli border near kibbutz Hanita on March 22, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The head of the IDF’s Northern Command has punished two senior officers over an incident last week in which a Lebanese man managed to cross the border and walk into the city of Kiryat Shmona’s bus station, the army said Friday, adding that four other servicemen would also face disciplinary action.

Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick dismissed the deputy commander of the company responsible for the area where the Lebanese man entered Israel, and the battalion commander of the area received an official black mark on his record, the army said, noting their failings in handling the incident.

Four other officers and soldiers will also face disciplinary hearings.

Last Thursday, a Lebanese man was arrested in northern Israel after crossing the border fence.

According to police, he was detained in the bus station of Kiryat Shmona, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the Lebanese border, after police received calls reporting a suspicious-looking person. He was unarmed.

He was handed over to the Shin Bet security service for questioning following his arrest.

Though it was initially unclear where the man crossed the border, the military later said he had entered Israel in the area of Margaliot, a small community that abuts the security fence.

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The decision to punish the six soldiers was made following an investigation of the incident that was led by Strick.

“Operational lessons were learned, including about how the forces functioned during the incident,” the army said in a statement.

“Lessons from the incident were passed along to the forces, and additional complementary professional investigations will also be carried out in order to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future,” the army said.

It was not immediately clear what the man was doing in the country, although Channel 2 reported that he told investigators from the police and Shin Bet domestic security service that he wanted to live in Israel.

In an interview on Lebanese television, the man’s father confirmed this account, saying his son suffered from mental health issues and believed he was Jewish.

“My son’s mind is not right; he says he was originally Jewish,” the father said when asked if he was aware of Mari’s desire to go to Israel. “Can you imagine a normal person doing such a thing?”

The Hebrew-language Ynet news site reported that the IDF was checking its observation equipment on the border with Lebanon in order to figure out how the man crossed the fence without being identified.

In recent years, the IDF has invested considerable efforts in improving its defenses along the border and creating natural obstacles in order to prevent attacks by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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