Army shocked by 'flotilla looters'
Investigation revealed by Ynet against officer, soldiers suspected of stealing, selling goods from Turkish ship raided on its way to Gaza evokes anger, embarrassment among army officials, politicians. 'If this is true, there must be a serious problem in the army in terms of values,' senior officer says
"If the suspicions prove to be true, there must be a serious problem in the IDF in terms of values," a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said Thursday morning following Ynet's revelation on Wednesday that an officer is suspected of stealing laptops from the highly controversial aid flotilla to Gaza and selling them along with other soldiers.
"In such a case, we will not be able to say that these are just weeds," the senior officer added.
The Military Advocacy was expected to ask a military court to extend the officers remand by several days on Thursday. The officer is considered the main suspect in the affair, and according to sources familiar with the affair, there is a significant different between him and the other detainees.
"Apart from being an IDF officer, he is suspected of theft while the rest of the soldiers only bought and sold the equipment, so their part is smaller," one of the sources explained.
'Didn't know it was stolen property.' Suspected soldier (Photo: Avishag Shear-Yeshuv)
Senior IDF officials are closely monitoring the sensitive investigation, which may have additional consequences beyond the army.
"There are signs tying the event to the flotilla, including the fact that the officer was there as part of a defined role. He had access to equipment which appeared to be 'not Israeli.' However, the investigation has yet to be completed and everything must be examined thoroughly," said a military source.
"This matter is very problematic in terms of values, as the incident allegedly took place after it was clear that the flotilla was a serious international affair," the source added. "An officer who under such circumstances steals equipment which does not belong to him, and then tries to sell it – it's almost incomprehensible."
'Soldier's part in the affair was minor'
The IDF did not receive complaints of stolen computers after the Navy raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, but it's possible that the civilians who were on the ships chose not to complain in light of the complicated incident they had gone through.
The suspects' defense counsels are attempting to lower the flames. Attorney Shlomi Rechavi, who is representing one of the soldiers who bought a laptop, said that "the soldier bought a computer from a childhood friend. He had no idea that it was stolen property, especially not from the flotilla.
"Only later he found out from a friend that it was stolen equipment. He cooperated with the investigators, admitted to his mistake and expressed regret. I have no doubt that after the officer's arrest, my client will be released from detention."
Attorney Benny Kuznitz, who is representing the soldier who "mediated" between the officer and the soldier who purchased the laptop, said his client was unaware of the incident's circumstances.
"My client didn't know it was stolen property, and was definitely unaware that the computers were taken from the flotilla. All he did was accept an officer's offer to buy a used computer from him for a reasonable price, and that's it. The court's decision not to extend his remand by more than one day, despite the prosecution's request to keep his in custody for a week, proves that his part in the affair was minor and that he is innocent."
'Embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating'
The affair embarrassed the political arena as well, with Knesset members demanding that the army prevent such incidents from repeating themselves at almost all costs.
"This is an embarrassing, humiliating and infuriating act," said MK Eitan Cabel (Labor). "The IDF must handle this affair according to the strict letter of the law.
Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron called on the army to utilize the investigation to the fullest, noting that "the multiple number of incidents, in which basic values are compromised, requires the army to hold a thorough investigation into the causes."
Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed his faith that "the IDF will do all it takes to clarify that this is a failure in values which cannot be ignored or forgiven." He added that the soldiers responsible for the act were "weeds which must be uprooted."
Investigators say they are currently trying to ascertain whether laptop computers were sold by a soldier to three other soldiers, and whether they were initially taken from the flotilla vessels by an officer.
The investigation could prove extremely harmful to Israel as the state strives to fend off global criticism for the raid, which resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens. Recently the Turkel committee, which is investigating the raid on behalf of the state, has called various leaders to testify before it, and a UN committee is not far behind.
The soldier suspected of selling the computers was arrested late Monday night, along with three soldiers suspected of buying them. In the process police say they discovered additional stolen goods in the soldier's possession, including more laptop computers and cellular phones.
Later an officer was arrested on suspicion he sold the goods to the soldier. The officer, a second-lieutenant in rank, is a commander of an army unit who had access to the ships while they docked at Ashdod port, awaiting their return to Turkey.
Police say the officer stole four to six laptops from the ship and then sold them to the soldier, who in turn sold them to three other soldiers two months ago. The three have already admitted to making the purchases during questioning, and the computers were confiscated by police. They were found to be brand new, and not meant for sale in Israel.
They also told interrogators that the soldier who sold them the goods told them they had been stolen from the flotilla ships, yet they did not pass the information on to their commanders.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report
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