Text size

In talks this weekend with aides to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, military attorneys recommended that military personnel be permitted to testify to the examination committee appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz only if confidentiality is granted.

The committee, chaired by former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak, is supposed "to examine the readiness and preparedness of the Israel Defense Forces and the military establishment for war" and draw lessons for the future. Its letter of authority was drafted without the input of Judge Advocate General Avihai Mandelblit.

If the letter of authority governing the committee is not amended to grant confidentiality, Halutz will be able to block it from summoning anyone in either the regular or career army, and probably in the reserves as well. A soldier summoned to a forum where confidentiality of testimony is not guaranteed can claim the right to remain silent or demand legal representation.

The army attorneys recommend that Halutz demand that Peretz apply Article 539 of the Military Justice Law, which defines confidentiality in military investigations, to the examination committee. According to this article, the chief of staff is "authorized" - but not obligated - to submit the findings of an investigation or related material to a "public body that requires the information."

However, the military lawyers believe that the Israel Defense Forces will be required, if asked, to submit evidence such as commands, operation diaries and recordings of meetings, video conferences and radio communications.

If Halutz adopts the lawyers' recommendations and prevents IDF officers from cooperating with the Shahak committee, it will attest to the growing tension between the chief of staff and the defense minister. It will also reflect Halutz's basic attitude toward the responsibility of army commanders. At an in-service conference held by the judge advocate general in 1999, when Halutz was head of the general staff's operations division, Halutz said discipline should be stricter during periods of calm than in war.

"War relies entirely on the unexpected, on the unplanned, on improvisation and initiative. There are no 'textbook solutions.' In this situation, there is no legal system that can determine whether you did the right thing or not," he said.