Three commanding officers who led Israeli forces during the November 15 battle in Hebron, during which 12 Israelis were killed, will be removed from their posts as a result of the findings of a military investigation.
The recommendation for the dismissal of the officers - two in the Israel Defense Forces and one from the Border Police - was made after investigators concluded that a "command vacuum" occured during the initial stages of the clash with three militants who belonged the radical Palestinian group, the Islamic Jihad. As a result of this vacuum, command decisions were not taken by the senior IDF officers at the scene, but by civilians in charge of security in the nearby settlements.
The conclusions of the investigation were presented yesterday to the families of the 12 men killed - five Border Policemen, four IDF soldiers and three settlers from the emergency response squad of Kiryat Arba. During the evening, the head of Central Command, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, held a press conference in which he detailed the findings of the investigation. The following are its main conclusions:
- The death of three senior officers, among them the commander of the Hebron Brigade, Colonel Dror Weinberg, severely damaged the chain of command at the scene. As a result, the officers who arrived there found it difficult to establish a clear picture of the situation within a short period of time.
- Some of the officers who arrived at the scene after Weinberg's death failed to take command of the situation as was expected. The officers took part in the fighting and in the evacuation of the injured, but their actions created a situation in which the decision-making fell into the hands of civilians (local settlers), for many minutes.
"When civilians command the army - this is not an acceptable situation as far as we are concerned," an IDF source said. "We expect our officers to take command and act on their responsibilities. A command vacuum was what we had here - and this is the reason for which we decided to take [these] steps."
Among the decisions taken was dismissal of the deputy commander of the regular Nahal Battalion, who took part in the battle. Kaplinsky also recommended dismissal of the commander of the reserve company - a decision that must be approved by other senior IDF officers - and of the operations officer of the Border Police Battalion stationed in Hebron. In addition, the deputy commander of the regular Artillery Battalion will be officially reprimanded as will the commander of the reserve squad.
All the officers against whom Kaplinsky recommended punitive action participated in the fighting, but failed to take command at critical junctures, as was expected of them. Those who established order during the incident and brought it to a conclusion were ultimately the senior commanders, including the division commander, Brigadier General Amos Ben-Avraham, and the Nahal Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Eran, who arrived later.
The fighting was intermittent and the militants only fired sporadically. Thus, some of the officers, including Weinberg, entered into the alley in which the shooting took place at different times, thinking that the militants had fled or that the fighting had ended already.
Colonel Weinberg acted appropriately and his decision to enter the alley where he was killed stemmed from correct judgment. Kaplinsky noted that "the IDF expects its commanders to be at the place where their influence is the greatest. In fighting against small teams and in a dense urban setting, it is right to move to the center of action and make the most of the ability to command and provide a solution."
Throughout the fighting, insufficient attention was given to positioning spotters on the roof tops.
Vehicles entered the alley with their headlights on, which made them an easy target.
There was insufficient preparation of the forces on alert, in spite of the fact that there was plenty of solid intelligence regarding a possible incident of the sort that unfolded.
There was poor coordination among the different forces operating in the area.
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