Soldiers from one of Israel's most elite units, the Air Force's Shaldag commando paratrooper unit, accidentally left a computer containing highly sensitive information at a coffee shop in a gas station. It it hadn't been for a savvy bus driver, the data contained on it could have fallen into enemy hands, with severe implications for Israel's national security.
The incident occurred at the end of a combat mission, whose precise nature cannot for security reasons be detailed. The unit involved is active on two fronts, one in the north and one in the south, even during peacetime. At the end of the mission, en route to their home base at Palmachim, the unit stopped at a gas station for a break. The soldier responsible for carrying the computer took it to the nearest coffee shop. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers returned to their car - leaving the computer behind.
It is unclear how long was the computer was left in the coffee shop before a bus driver realized that the computer contained classified information and turned it over to the police, who traced it to the unit. Due to the sensitivity of the information, the computer was handed over to the IDF unit responsible for data security to check whether it had been breached. According to military sources, however, the computer had not been accessed by any unauthorized personnel.
Senior IDF officials say that if the computer had fallen into the hands of the enemy, it would have caused serious damage to Israel's national security.
The Military Police has opened an investigation into the incident and the five soldiers have been suspended from their duties in the unit. The outcome of the investigation is will determine if and how they are allowed to continue their service in the unit.
The IDF Spokesperson confirmed the incident, saying that, "when the investigation is completed, the findings will be passed to the military prosecutor."
Shaldag - Hebrew for kingfisher - was established 43 years ago and since then has lost nine of its soldiers in combat. The unit has conducted hundreds of operations in the recent years aimed at intercepting high quality weapons making their way from Iran to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, as well as to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in what is commonly known as "the war between wars."
The unit played an instrumental role in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 1991, under the command of former IDF chief Benny Gantz, the unit oversaw the airlift of 14,000 Jews from Addis Ababa to Israel. Other famous former members of the unit include Tal Russo, Doron Almog and Gal Hirsch.
In past few years there have been several breaches of sensitive information in the IDF, although the army has not treated those responsible with a uniform level of severity.
For example, then-commander of IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, was forced to resign his post when it was discovered that his computer containing classified information was stolen from his home. Similary, a colonel in the IDF Northern Command and senior Air Force commander were dismissed for losing classified information.
By contrast , then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, decided to only reprimand Col. Avi Blut, then head of IDF Commando Brigade, when classified documents were stolen from his car in June 2018. Eisenkot was criticized for his soft approach towards Blut, who is today Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's military secretary.