Senior IDF officers are furious over "the military prosecution's excessive involvement in operational matters," following a growing number of probes into battlefield incidents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – especially during Operation Cast Lead.
As part of their criticism, the officers suggested that the investigations damaged the IDF and served the interests of Hamas. Others claim that they are aimed at appeasing the United Nations following the Goldstone Report, and show that "officers are being scrutinized."
On top of the controversial decision to indict a combat soldier for killing a mother and daughter in Gaza, the military court recently decided to try a Golani Brigade commander for an incident in which his subordinates used a Palestinian civilian as a human shield.
Another debated issue is the decision to probe an event mentioned at length in the Goldstone Report, in which a Gaza house was bombarded, resulting in the deaths of 21 people.
Recent information revealed that the investigation will focus on Air Force personnel as well as former Givati Brigade Commander, Colonel Ilan Malka.
In addition, the military prosecution on Thursday convicted a regiment commander and a soldier for shooting a bound protester in Naalin.
'Officers are scared to operate'The current situation has stirred discontent among the IDF's commanding ranks. "Undoubtedly, the rubber bullet affair was not good," said a senior officer who has served as a brigade commander in the past few years.
"It would have been better if it never happened, but we can honestly say that in this case the officer didn't just go wild, but rather made a mistake – and now he will get stained for life. This is something that seeps down, and as a result officers are scared to operate," he said.
Lt. Col. Omri Burberg was relieved of his command after the incident, and an upcoming promotion. If no changes are made, he will also leave the IDF with a criminal record that will accompany him for 17 years.
The senior officer noted that the IDF was fighting its battle in a populated area, which makes it extremely difficult to distinguish between a terrorist and a civilian. Terror organizations, the officer claimed, used this fact to conceal traps that target the IDF.
"When an officer nabs a Palestinian taxi driver without cause – it is a criminal act –not wrong judgment. But there is no fault when a regiment commander allows a civilian who asked not to demolish his house, to enter and check if there are hidden terrorists," he said.
Zeitoun neighborhood after IDF bombing (Photo: AFP)
"The aforementioned regiment commander was brought before a disciplinary hearing led by GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot, and walked away with a warning – the most symbolic punishment that can be given. This alone shows the General's disagreement with the decision to discipline the commander," said the officer.
"The officers on the ground fight in very complex conditions, and when you examine it later in an air-conditioned office through a neat presentation – there are always some remarks. We must not transmit the message that every mistake is a hanging rope."
'Decorated officer turned criminal suspect'Currently, the military police is investigating the January 2009 bombardment of the al-Samouni house in Gaza's Zeitoun neighborhood, which killed 21 people (out of 29 family members killed during the operation).
Among those to be summoned for explanations is Colonel Ilan Malka, whose promotion is on hold due to the forthcoming investigation. Colonel Malka instructed the Air Force to bombard the house, assuming there was a terrorist cell seeking shelter inside – but no civilians.
According to an officer who served in Givati, this is a sad case. "They turned a decorated officer into a criminal suspect. This is very unpleasant – to say the least."
Other field commanders admitted behind closed doors that the military prosecution must be given the legitimacy to probe, but advocated using the right balance.
A senior military official remarked cynically that "investigating the event mentioned at length in the Goldstone Report serves as a good response from the IDF, who is expected to hand the UN an updated report soon. It is convenient to show them we are scrutinizing senior officers."
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