IDF Downplays Action Against Officers

Study units on the rules of war, international law and combat ethics in populated areas that are taught in senior command courses in the Israel Defense Forces have recently been greatly expanded. The change is one effect of Operation Cast Lead. On Monday it was revealed that two senior officers involved in the Gaza military operation last year were subject to disciplinary proceedings.

IDF officials yesterday downplayed the significance of the proceedings against Gaza Division commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and former Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka, conducted by GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, saying that it would not affect their future promotions.

It was determined that the officers had exceeded their authority in authorizing artillery fire, which IDF sources said yesterday had been fired to create cover to assist in the extrication of IDF troops, some of whom were wounded, from a position where Hamas had superiority.

The sources also said that while the firing of the shells did endanger human life, no injuries were actually sustained as a result.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said yesterday that contrary to the reports provided by the government to the United Nations on Friday, which stated that Eisenberg and Malka were disciplined for using smoke shells containing white phosphorus, they were disciplined not for using the phosphorus shells but rather for giving the authorization to fire regular artillery shells.

A source in the Southern Command said that in the incident in question smoke shells containing phosphorus were used, which according to Palestinian reports injured three people. However, the army found that the firing of these shells was not improper.

IDF sources said that the disciplinary action, which took place in July, was not made public because it was an internal procedure of which not even the IDF Spokesman's Office was aware.

The disciplinary action was taken on the instruction of Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, in the wake of a report prepared by Col. Itzik Turjeman on some of the exceptional incidents during Operation Cast Lead.

Mendelblit said he believed the event did not warrant a criminal investigation by the Military Police.

However, yesterday the human rights group B'Tselem asked Mendelblit to open a Military police investigation.

Former deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel, who coordinated the work of the committee investigating the incidents, said yesterday that it was a mistake not to release the fact that Eisenberg and Malka had been subject to disciplinary proceedings. According to Harel, when he presented the reports last April the details of the incidents for which the two officers were disciplined were not yet known.

The IDF Spokesman's Office was reportedly surprised that the disciplinary proceeding was mentioned in the response to the Goldstone report given to the UN.

Meanwhile, several IDF officers have said that issues of law and ethics involving combat in densely populated zones like the Gaza Strip are "very troubling" to field commanders.

Contributing to the discomfort is the widespread reporting in the Israeli and foreign media of investigations by the Military Police and the Military Advocate General of 150 incidents during the operation, in which approximately 500 officers and soldiers were interviewed, as well as initiatives to arrest IDF officers abroad.

In response, several command courses, from basic officer training to the training of company, battalion and division commanders, have increasingly been dealing with these issues. Specialists in the Military Advocate General's Corps as well as civilian lecturers are delivering lectures.

Among them is Prof. Moshe Halbertal, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and among those who drafted the IDF's ethical code. Halbertal wrote an extensive article that was published in The New Republic in November slamming the conclusions of the Goldstone report but calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into Operation Cast Lead. Halbertal is scheduled to teach a course on combat ethics at the Tactical Command College, which trains company commanders in the ground forces.