Two days after Elior Azaria shot a neutralized terrorist who carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron, the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division instructed commanders of the various brigades to discuss with their subordinate officers the lessons of the incident and to revise the rules of engagement.
“In the beginning I didn’t understand why this was necessary,” explained Colonel Hazi Nehama, a commander of the Menasheh Brigade. “I was sure that they had read the investigation and passed it along to their soldiers. Then suddenly one of the battalion commanders stood up and asked: ‘How did the IDF not support the soldier?’ After I provided all of the facts, the commander of the battalion understood what really happened there.”
The relative calm over the past few weeks has enabled Yedioth Ahronoth to conduct a rare and exclusive interview with the six platoon commanders from the Judea and Samaria Division. For hours they discussed the current wave of terror attacks and elaborated on the techniques and methods employed which ultimately brought about a significant decline in the number of attacks. The six also discussed moral and sensitive subjects which are tearing the IDF apart from inside.
Etzion Battalion Commander, Colonel Roman Gofman, described the daily efforts to stop the cycle of terror. “In two-and-a-half months, twelve terrorists came from the village of Sa'ir near Hebron, for example. We checked the clans that they belonged to and targeted them and them only, while we made things easier for the rest of the clans. They quickly recognized this and stopped whoever they needed to.”
Battalion Commander, Colonel Roi Strait gave the example of the village of Budrus north of Ramallah. “This small village with about 2,500 residents caused a lot of problems,” he said. “But the moment that we began to pave them a central road, the mayor and the principal of a school came and stopped a demonstration that had erupted.”
Moreover, the battalion commanders emphasized that we are only talking about a temporary respite. “When the wave of terror is renewed,” Battalion Commander in Samaria Colonel Shay Klapper predicted, “it will jump a few levels. It won’t go back to 13-year-old children with knives. The bus explosion in Jerusalem returned us all to the early 2000s.”
Only recently was the case closed against a Binyamin battalion commander, Colonel Israel Shomer, who shot a terrorist to death after he threw a boulder at his vehicle. Shomer shared his thoughts on the case with Yedioth Ahronoth: “I am proud of the fact that despite the fact that I am a colonel, my case was checked in exactly the same way as other regular soldiers are checked. Obviously the investigations of the military criminal investigation division (CID) are not pleasant, but my belief in the prevailing of justice and the support which I received outweighed the unpleasantness.”
Col. Yariv Ben-Ezra, commander of the Hebron Brigade, also commented on the Hebron shooting incident which took place in his area and which rocked the state but highlighted the importance of social networks. “We cannot ignore the conversations on social networks,” he said. “This is a command challenge, a leadership challenge but at the end of the day it only builds the resilience of the army and its commanders. I believe that we will emerge from this stronger as an army.”