Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has ordered the suspension of a battalion commander after a soldier was left behind in the West Bank following an army operation. The commander is suspected of giving false information when reporting on the incident.
Lt. Col. Muli Cohen is the commander of Battalion 74 of Armored Brigade 188. If he is found guilty, sources say it is unlikely he will be allowed to resume his command, since giving false information is a violation which the army defines as being “unethical.”
Last Wednesday, villagers from Bodrus in the West Bank told Haaretz that a lone soldier had been left behind in the village. When the newspaper asked the army for information, it was informed by the IDF spokesman that a “visual link was retained” with the soldier. This statement was based on an allegedly false report provided by the commander.
Following a short probe, the army concluded that the Palestinian claim that the soldier was being helped by locals to exit safely from the village was correct, and the IDF spokesman changed his statement.
The soldier who had been left behind had been part of a forward command team of three soldiers, answering to the commander himself.
Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, under whose command the armored battalion falls, is investigating the incident. In addition to probing the actual incident which resulted in the soldier being left behind − especially at a time when the army is concerned about attempts to kidnap soldiers in the West Bank − the investigation will focus on the ethical aspect of the actions of Lt. Col. Cohen, and suspicions that he intentionally sought to distort the facts.
Military sources said there “are suspicions of unethical conduct,” and that Maj. Gen. Golan will present his findings to the Chief of Staff in a few days.
This is the first time Gantz is taking such grave measures for an alleged operational mistake since assuming his duties as Chief of Staff nearly a year ago. Recently he removed a colonel from his duties in the Artillery Corps because the officer was involved in an incident where he was accused of stealing from a shop.
In other instances, most recently the failure to stop demonstrators from Syria crossing the fence at Majd al-Shams in May, and the attacks near Eilat in August, Gantz was criticized for not taking strict action against officers who failed in their duty.
It appears the difference this time was that the incident seemingly involves an officer making a false report, which Gantz considers to be unforgivable.
If Lt. Col. Cohen is removed from his position, he will be the second armored battalion commander to lose his job because of an incident near the separation fence. Three years ago, former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi removed Lt. Col. Omri Borberg, commander of Battalion 71, from his duties because one of his soldiers fired a rubber bullet at a detained Palestinian demonstrator.
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