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Top IDF officers get rebuked over death of recruit, subpar probe

Army chief formally reprimands two brigadier generals, calls a third for a disciplinary hearing after follow-up probe into death of Ron Oved in 2019

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

Ron Eliyahu Oved, right, and his father. Oved was killed in an accident during a tryout for the IDF Paratroopers Brigade on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy of the family)
Ron Eliyahu Oved, right, and his father. Oved was killed in an accident during a tryout for the IDF Paratroopers Brigade on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy of the family)

Two brigadier generals were formally reprimanded and a third was called for a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday over the death of a recruit, Ron Oved, during a tryout for the Paratroopers Brigade in 2019 and the deficient investigation into the event after the fact, the military said.

On April 11, 2019, a bus that was parked on an incline above the tents in which a group of recruits were sleeping — in clear violation of IDF protocol — rolled down the hill into the structure, killing Oved, 18, and injuring five others.

The military’s initial investigation, which was completed within two months, blamed Oved’s death squarely on the bus driver and the company that hired him, deeming the incident a vehicular accident rather than a training accident.

No one in the military was punished over the incident. The bus driver was charged with negligent manslaughter last September.

The Military Police conducted its own investigation into Oved’s death, finding that the initial investigation was woefully insufficient, failing to look at larger issues of how the Paratroopers Brigade conducts tryouts for recruits and how safety protocols were apparently ignored.

In light of the Military Police probe and a report in the Haaretz newspaper around the same time, which included claims by Oved’s family that the military had failed to adequately look into the case, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered an additional investigation into the event itself and into the way it was examined.

Illustrative — Paratroopers take part in an exercise simulating war with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group in September 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Brig. Gen. Ilan Sabag, the IDF’s former chief combat engineering officer, led the probe and presented his findings to Kohavi and Oved’s family in recent days. The investigation uncovered significant serious deficiencies in how the tryout was run, failure to adhere to safety protocols and a poor initial investigation. However, the probe upheld the first probe’s finding that Oved’s death was solely the result of the driver’s alleged negligence and was not caused by the actions of the commanders on the scene.

Sabag’s investigation found that the first probe was “insufficient and did not expose all of the lacunae,” Kohavi said.

“Any investigation into any topic needs to turn over every stone and to dissect with a fine scalpel every fact and every question,” he said.

In light of Sabag’s findings, Kohavi ordered Brig. Gen. Nimrod Aloni, who served as interim chief infantry and paratrooper officer at the time of the incident and is now head of the Gaza Division, to be formally censured. The head of the Paratroopers Brigade at the time, Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf, who now serves as military secretary to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, was also formally censured. In addition, Dolf will not be considered for a division commander position in the coming year, as he was meant to.

Col. Yaki Dolf, then-commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, at a military ceremony in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces/Wikimedia)

Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkleman, who was then the head of the 98th Division, which commands the Paratroopers Brigade, will be called for a disciplinary hearing, the IDF said.

In addition, the head of the Paratroopers Brigade’s training base at the time, Col. Eliav Elbaz, who led the initial investigation, will be formally reprimanded and will not be eligible for promotion in the coming year.

According to the IDF, Kohavi has also ordered a review of the military’s methods of trying out new recruits.

“The chief of staff concluded that Ron Oved — may his memory be blessed — was killed under tragic circumstances from the apparent negligence of the civilian bus driver. At the same time, the investigative committee uncovered oversights and failures that demand systemic treatment in order to improve for the future and learn the necessary lessons,” the IDF said.

The empty bus, which was owned and operated by a civilian company, had been parked nearby and the driver was outside the vehicle when it suddenly began rolling toward the tents. Some of the recruits managed to run away, while others were hit.

A lawyer for the driver said he had gone to use the bathroom and left the bus parked using the handbrake but the bus gears were set to “drive.”

“The driver claims that he does not remember changing gear,” explained attorney Raz Keren Yehoshua. “The bus was running, he started it a few minutes earlier for the soldiers to board. When he was in the bathroom, he heard shouts and saw the bus.”

The driver was charged with negligent manslaughter, reckless driving, causing an accident that caused serious harm, and leaving a motor vehicle unattended.

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