More than 100 IDF reserves officers, including some 70 battalion commanders, wrote a letter to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz this week in which they claimed that a military court's decision to convict two officers of negligence in the death of a soldier five years ago would hurt the army. According to the reservists, the military prosecution's conduct in the affair was unprofessional.
Sergeant Major (res.) Assaf Waxman was killed in November 2007 when an armored personnel carrier turned over during a training exercise in the Golan Heights.
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The head of the IDF's 319th Armor Division at the GOC Northern Command, Colonel Shlomi Cohen and battalion Commander Lt.-Col (Res.) Asaf Rafeld were recently convicted of negligence.
The military court judges harshly criticized the preparations – or lack thereof – made prior to the drill and the way the safety instructions were relayed to the reservists during that exercise. They also mentioned the testimonies of the battalion officers, who said that it is within battalion norms not to fasten seatbelts in APCs.
Overturned armored vehicle (Archive photo: Avihu Shapira)
In their letter to Gantz, the reservists expressed their support for Rafeld, who will be sentenced next week. "We wish to express to you our sense of embarrassment over the military prosecution's unprofessional conduct in this case," the officers wrote. "We call for your quick intervention, within the limits of the law of course, to reduce the severe damage caused to the IDF because of this. Our hearts go out to Assaf's parents."
The officers who signed the letters hold the rank of lieutenant-colonel or colonel.
"During the trial a huge gap was exposed between what is desired and what exists in the (IDF reserves); between the mission and the means; between the threat and the preparedness. The cautious and moderate words used by the judges cannot narrow the gap between the standing army and the reserves. We determine that Asaf Rafeld was not negligent!"
In the letter, the officers mentioned that then-GOC Northern Command Gadi Eisenkot did not find any fault in the battalion commander's conduct.
Assaf Waxman's father, Leon, said in response that during the trial Eisenkot testified on Rafeld's behalf, not on behalf of the IDF, "in order to protect the battalion commander."
The father said the officers "ignored the fact that had the APC advanced a few meters forward, everyone would have fallen into the wadi, and all the crewmembers would have been killed."