IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz dismissed Givati's 432nd Infantry Battalion commander Lt.-Col. Liran Hajabi on Thursday over allegations he committed indecent acts in two female soldiers under his command.
Gantz decided to accept the GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman's recommendation to remove the commander from his position as part of several other punitive steps taken against Hajabi in recent days.
The IDF said that "the decision was made in light of the failures that have been discovered, which don't align with the norms and values of the IDF."
The decision to dismiss Hajabi was unconnected to the criminal proceedings against him, at the end of which he could face charges.
The army was worried that in light of the allegations, the longer the battalion commander remained in his position, the more damage will be caused to trust between the army command and the soldiers and public.
The move, however, does not include a discharging from the IDF and Hajabi might stay in the army in a different position when the affair is over. A full discharge is expected only if a criminal indictment is filed against him.
Hajabi, who is on leave until the end of the investigation, is preparing to fight to prove his innocence. "He's sure of the rightness of his claims, and convinced he acted appropriately," sources close to him said.
Hajabi's position is temporarily being filled by Lt.-Col. Hezi Nechama, and Brigade commander Col. Ofer Vinter (who is also involved, suspected of covering up some of the affairs in the brigade) is expected to appoint a new and permanent battalion commander for the 432nd Infantry Battalion soon.
Regarding Vinter, the estimates are that the investigation into his conduct will be closed without an indictment being filed, but the way he handled the affairs that were uncovered might hurt his future promotions.
Soldiers at the 432nd Infantry Battalion, which is currently in training, had mixed feelings about the dismissal of the battalion commander. One female soldier who serves in the battalion told Ynet: "The feeling of decadence in the battalion has been in the air even before the affair blew up in the media, and an in-depth investigation of the battalion should've been conducted long ago, during the summer. It's sad that the rumors turned out to be true, because eventually it's the brigade and the battalion's good name that is smeared."
On the other hand, a male soldier from one of the battalion's companies said that "there's no one braver than Hajabi in the battlefield and he proved this not just during the last Gaza operation, but in the past as well. But when the affairs came to light, the trust in some of the battalion's officers began to waver. There was a feeling around here that there was a shady plan against the deputy battalion commander, who filed a complaint (against misconduct in the battalion) and that they worked together to silence any other stinky business that popped up."
Allegations of sexual harassmentHajabi was one of the Givati Brigade's commanders who fought in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. He led hundreds of fighters in combat against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip, and before that in different fighting areas in the Judea and Samaria District.
A female soldier who complained against him claimed he sexually harassed her about a year ago, while she was serving in the battalion.
The soldier claimed that after she left her position in the battalion because of the incident, Hajabi texted her with sexual and offensive messages, including calling her "sweetheart" and saying she was "so pretty."
Sources close to Hajabi claimed the texts were sent in response to a photo the soldier sent him, and that she's the one who initiated most of the correspondence between them.
At the same time, the soldier claimed the battalion commander forcefully kissed her on the mouth against her will. Hajabi vehemently denies this claim as well.
Another female soldier who reported similar acts did not file a complaint against Hajabi, but the IDF criminal investigation division (CID) received testimony from soldiers who said they saw her entering Hajabi's room during one of the ceasefire in Operation Protective Edge, where other officers were also staying.
Shortly after the allegations against him were made public, Hajabi said via his lawyer, Military Advocate General Col. Asher Halperin: "In the wake of recent reports in the media regarding allegations against him, the battalion commander chose to take a short leave of absence in order to avoid hurting the battalion's daily operations and out of the desire for the factual picture to become clear as early as possible, as then it would be clear no offenses were committed by him."
The scandals at the battalion started some two months ago when two soldiers filed a complaint to the CID against a platoon commander, saying he sexually harassed them. The platoon commander was removed from his post, but then a series of additional affairs was exposed, the most grave of which is the allegations against Hajabi.
While Hajabi is denying the allegations against him, it was his deputy - a recently-appointed major who came from an elite unit - who wanted to report on some of the things he was exposed to in the battalion. The deputy reported on a series of unpleasant affairs revolving senior commanders in the battalion, including the suspicion of a cover up of a car accident Hajabi was involved in, the theft of money donated to the battalion, fraud, and other accusations. The deputy, however, encountered a cold shoulder and was removed from his post.
After the affair was made public, Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Vinter called for a courageous investigation to uncover the truth, as well as called to handle the moral problems that arose among the battalion's officers and to focus on preparing the brigade to a possible renewal of hostilities in the south.