It was only to be expected that the soldier abuse case in the Armored Corps' 74th battalion would end in a plea bargain. The army had no interest in a trial, in which senior officers would be brought to court to testify about their participation in hazing rituals during their service as commanders in that company.
But the IDF's hazing problem is not limited to a handful of junior Armored Corps officers. This is a major problem prevalent in several units and branches.
The Military Advocate General has admitted in its statement to the court that the company had a long-standing hazing tradition and it was therefore impossible to place the entire responsibility on the present defendants.
The senior command recognizes the problem. In recent months Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and his generals have visited units and discussed the problem, placing it prominently on the military agenda. In two cases, in the Golani Brigade and the Air Force air traffic control unit, commanders were demoted and officers were sent to jail for taking part in such rituals. But this is not enough.
IDF regulations forbid abusive conduct toward soldiers. But as the recently exposed incidents show, the predominant practice in the army tends to flout the rules. In addition, the soldiers and officers maintain what the military prosecutor called "a conspiracy of silence."
Young soldiers who fall victim to abuse and humiliation keep silent, knowing that complaining would be contrary to the unit's spirit and the day will come when it will be their turn to exact similar punishment on new recruits.
The practice of ignoring the rules in the IDF is not restricted to hazing. It was displayed a few months ago in senior officers' custom of letting family members drive their IDF-owned cars. Reports following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza showed that a laxity toward regulations was also maintained on the battlefield.
Legal measures should be taken to deal with extreme cases, but the IDF must not wait for embarrassing affairs to be exposed in public. This is primarily a command problem. As the army managed to limit operative accidents in the last decade, so it must enforce the rules in other areas.
The IDF has increased its training drills since the Second Lebanon War in a bid to strengthen fighting capability. Now it must deal with strengthening discipline. That, too, is an important part of readiness for war, and Ashkenazi is responsible for it.
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