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After a delay of decades, Israel Defense Forces soldiers are now enforcing the law in the territories. So much law is being enforced in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria (West Bank) that too little of it is left for the army inside Israel. At the Gelilot base, where the members of a respected committee pose for souvenir photographs in officers' uniforms, it again emerges that in the army's dictionary, law is a flexible term.

Law for the private and the captain is one thing, and for the major general - something quite different. Woe betide the stupid offender who is caught while he is still in the middle ranks. If you climb to the top of the ladder, you will not be caught, and if you are caught, your friends will come to your aid.

Thus, the tale of a soldier who gave a lift to a female soldier from Safed to Bat Yam, with a stop along the way in Netanya: The soldier, according to the judge advocate general, "wanted to stop to refresh himself at his apartment in Netanya, on false pretenses. She waited on the sofa for him to finish showering. He came out of the shower wearing only a towel, sat down beside her and suddenly lay down on her, tried to undress her and kissed her, ignoring her resistance. He rubbed his sexual organ against her crotch and at a certain stage stopped what he was doing. Then she crawled out from under his body and left the apartment hurriedly. The magistrate's court convicted him, after determining that it believed her. The district court approved the conviction, after confirming that she had been subjected to `compelling force.'"

An embarrassing matter. Had the soldier been a major, the JAG would have asked to have him demoted to staff sergeant or second lieutenant; a colonel - to captain. Three ranks, at least, as has been customary during the 50 years of the existence of Article 533 in the Military Trial Law, which allows the demotion of commanders who have been convicted of offenses that involve moral turpitude and their expulsion from the career army or from the reserves, even if the offenses, the courts and the convictions were civilian. The article is supposed to be a deterrent to those who are keen to hang on to their ranks as a selling point in their civilian lives and in politics, and also to prevent military people from seeking refuge in civilian courts.

But the soldier is Yitzhak Mordechai, who was convicted of committing an indecent act in aggravated circumstances on a female officer, his personal secretary, when he was GOC Southern Command, and of committing an indecent act on a female political activist when he was defense minister, again the very model of a major politician who preaches to the ranks. From Netanya to Motza, the behavior pattern of the serial attacker did not change: an invitation on some pretext to his apartment, overwhelming, the application of force, determined mauling, cease-fire, disengagement.

Mordechai's supporters do not understand what the problem is here: A sex offender is one thing and a major general is another. The JAG, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, understands. He puts Mordechai's deeds "at the upper threshold of the scale of indecent acts" and also speaks about another threshold, "the threshold of behavior expected of an officer," which rises as the officer advances in rank. Therefore Mandelblit is demanding "a real blow" to his rank, the implication being a demotion by three ranks.

Mandleblit's demand was met with a forgiving attitude at the Vinograd-Yaari-Telraz committee, one of whose members, Aviezer Yaari, is a major general in the reserves. His colleagues, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Vinograd and attorney Yosef Telraz, received representative acting ranks of major general and in the blink of an eye began to radiate a sense of belonging to the major generals' club. There is no woman on the committee; among the six judges who convicted Mordechai, the two women were severe and the men were lenient.

To do well by Mordechai and to justify a decision that will affect his rank but little, if at all, the members of the Vinograd committee made requests of both sides: It asked the JAG "to consider whether it is possible to submit a new, revised and refined position" and it requested from Mordechai's attorneys "a document that details his life and activities."

Ram Caspi, one of the lawyers representing Mordechai, was hasty at first and expressed bitterness. "This isn't Buzaglo," said Caspi, referring to the Israeli surname used colloquially to indicate an average, possibly lower-class citizen. "The judges realized that this was Yitzhak Mordechai. Do they need his personal file? They didn't send him to prison. Had it been anyone else, maybe he would indeed have gone to prison."

Thus Mordechai is supposed to benefit twice. He was not sent to prison, because he is a major general, and he will remain a major general, because he was not sent to prison.What Mordechai will say of himself is not hard to guess. But this is not necessarily the only version.

The public and Mordechai's victims apparently do not have any standing with the Vinograd committee. The army, which is not ashamed of what was concealed behind Mordechai's towel, has left its owner to the JAG's determination. Much depends on Mandelblit's ability to stand up to pressure in the committee and the media, to defend the IDF's values from the major generals' club and to appeal the decision, if he believes it contradicts these values, in the Military Court of Appeals.