The decision affirms the belief that, as far as Gantz is concerned, Winter may not have strictly obeyed the orders of senior command but did not commit a criminal or ethical offense.
However, the IDF Chief of Staff could not ignore the shortcomings in the conduct of the brigade commander after he was informed of the alleged sexual assaults by Tzabar Battalion commander Lt. Col. Liran Hajabi and the other grave disciplinary offenses which occurred in the brigade recently.
The IDF chief thus chose to utilize a relatively-lenient punishment and criticism. He ordered GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman to admonish Winter for not operating according to directives and commands related to such events.
The statement released by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit was intended to dull the sharp edges of this affair. It must be noted – battalion commander Liran Hajabi was demoted from his position by the IDF Chief of Staff until the end of the criminal proceedings undertaken by the Military Advocate General and the military police.
The IDF Chief of Staff, however, appeared to clear the Givati commander's record from the charge he hid facts pertaining to Hajabi's offenses and also rejected the charge that Winter reported the wrong data – as in, lied – to his commanding officer when he briefed him on the affair.
Yet the IDF chief, as it sounds from the IDF statement, said that Winter did not act properly because he did not turn to military police, the military courts, and the senior advisor for women's affairs. Winter only made a report after Hajabi's deputy complained in person, then demoted him after receiving permission from a higher-up.
Winter clearly did not act properly. He should have conducted a "command procedure" which entailed a thorough investigation – which he did – but he did not turn at the same time to the military prosecutor to launch a military police investigation, as required by military law. Winter did not, and – as the IDF Spokesperson's Unit statement hints – he did not even bother to follow the IDF directives for these types of cases. He was satisfied with simply informing the GOC Southern Command.
Therefore, Winter is guilty of negligence, but not of concealment and perjury. Any person who has been in these situations knows that at times the lack of involvement by a direct commander amounts to aiding and abetting.
Despite all of this, the IDF chief chose a soft rebuke that won't stain Winter's record, and thus – formally – will not delay his promotion. It is likely that Gantz chose this course of action because Givati Brigade and its commanders, led by Col. Winter, are in the center of public attention following the chief Military Advocate General's investigation into the Black Friday battle in Rafah, after the kidnapping of Lt. Hadar Goldin.
The internal communication tapes of the brigade, revealed by our military correspondent Yoav Zitun, spurred vigorous public debate and intense opposition to the investigation. The military counsel's claim that he was investigating the incident to prevent an international inquiry has not tamed the dissent.
Meanwhile, the public opposition to the investigation by the military prosecutor continues to grow. In such an atmosphere it is easy to see why the IDF chief wants to quietly close the Tzabar commander's affair, centered on sexual assault and lack of discipline, and keep Col. Winter clean.
Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi was also faced with similar issues and dealt with them accordingly. The head of the general staff must walk a thin line between his loyalty to the commander on the ground and his ultimate duty as the senior commander of the IDF to insist on sticking to the law.
The statement published today by the IDF chief, in which he accepts the conclusions of GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman is an example of the attempt to balance between these two callings; it was the softest tool in the IDF Chief of Staff's arsenal.