Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir's military career came to an abrupt end yesterday, when IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi informed him that he would not receive a new posting.
Tamir, 46, was widely considered one of the Israel Defense Forces' best officers, and until recently, he seemed a shoo-in for the General Staff. But his career was derailed after he let his 15-year-old son drive an IDF vehicle in May 2007, in violation of army rules, and then lied about it when his son got into an accident. Tamir said at first that he had been driving the vehicle himself.
Ashkenazi has often been criticized for hesitating to take action against well-regarded senior officers who become embroiled in scandals, but this time, he acted fairly decisively. His associates said he had no choice, given Tamir's actions and the harsh verdicts of two military courts. Moreover, they said, he considered it necessary to send a clear message that officers, no matter how senior, are still expected to obey regulations and to tell the truth.
The IDF Spokesman's Office said the decision was difficult for Ashkenazi, given his admiration for Tamir's talents as an officer.
All the same, "the gravity of the act of which he was convicted and the damage he did to the IDF's values, discipline and personal example" made it necessary, the army said.
Tamir's lawyer, Moshe Israel, said his client "regrets the chief of staff's decision, but accepts and respects it. He feels great pride and privilege over his 28 years of service in the IDF."
Within the army, reactions to Ashkenazi's decision were mixed yesterday. Some major generals supported it, saying the chief of staff had no other choice.
"In the U.S. Army, an officer who erred in this way would have taken off his epaulets the very same day," said one.
But other senior officers charged that had the army dealt with the affair swiftly and suitably two years ago, it would never have been blown out of proportion in the way they believe it was.
Tamir was tried and convicted after a dilatory and error-ridden investigation by the Military Police, and the trial court decided to demote him to colonel, despite a letter from Ashkenazi praising Tamir's military skills and pleading for leniency. That sentence infuriated many officers.
In November 2009, the Military Court of Appeals upheld the conviction but reduced the sentence. Instead of being demoted, it said, Tamir should merely be denied promotion for two years.
After that verdict, several of Tamir's friends urged him to resign. But Tamir opted to stay, and has been waiting for Ashkenazi to decide his fate.
Tamir spent most of his service in the Golani Brigade, where he was consistently considered a top officer, winning particular praise for his role in Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002. In the summer of 2006, he was appointed head of the Gaza Division, finishing his term shortly before last winter's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Battalion commanders who served under him in the Gaza Division described him as one of the best officers they had ever had - a compliment all the more impressive since it came from officers in the Givati Brigade, Golani's arch-rival.
In addition to being a consummate professional, Tamir was also known as something of an intellectual, unafraid to adopt new techniques or combat doctrines from other armies. In 2005, he published a book about his experiences fighting in the south Lebanon security zone before Israel's withdrawal in 2000; so far, it is the only substantial book any IDF officer has written on the topic.
Nevertheless, Tamir also showed a talent for getting himself in trouble. He was convicted of negligence over an operational accident in Lebanon, and faced disciplinary charges - but was ultimately acquitted - after a company commander under his command was charged with shooting civilians in Jenin.
Moreover, his habit of bluntly telling others, including his superiors, when he thought they were acting foolishly earned him quite a few enemies.
Ashkenazi, who admired him professionally, was heard to say more than once that Tamir needed to grow up before he would be ready for promotion to major general.