Something Is Rotten in the IDF's Givati Brigade

Recent allegations of sexual harassment, improper use of funds and unexplained suicides indicate a severe problem of oversight.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.
Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.Credit: Yehuda Gross / IDF Spokesperson
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Something bad is going on in the Givati Brigade. Israel Radio’s army correspondent, Carmela Menashe, reported on Tuesday about a series of incidents and allegations that go beyond localized mishaps and which are not necessarily limited to a single battalion in the Givati Brigade.

These allegations may indicate a severe command crisis in the brigade. According to senior officers who know the details of the investigations, these incidents show ongoing helplessness in the supervision of subordinate units.

The report by Menashe — whose exposés over the years have been a public service of the highest importance — contained, in essence, the following allegations: that a battalion commander in the Givati Brigade (whose name has not yet been cleared for publication) was questioned on suspicion that he sexually harassed his clerk and had consensual sexual relations with a woman career soldier (which, even if the relations were consensual, does not clear the battalion commander, since the army forbids fraternization between superior officers and their subordinates.)

In addition, two soldiers from the same battalion recently complained of sexual harassment by their platoon commander. The soldiers said that they had submitted their complaint some time after the incident occurred because of pressure from high-ranking officers, who wanted them to agree to have the incident dealt with in-house, without involving the army’s criminal investigation division.

Like the battalion commander’s clerk, the soldiers who were allegedly harassed no longer serve in the battalion. Neither does their deputy battalion commander, who assumed the post shortly before the incident. The deputy battalion commander was accused of disloyalty and removed after an argument with the battalion commander over the recent incidents.

Another allegation being examined is the improper use of funds donated to the battalion.

A combat soldier in the battalion recently committed suicide after being bullied by his fellow troops. A career NCO in the battalion also committed suicide, shortly after being summoned for questioning over the disappearance of weapons. Apparently, that was not the only incident in the Givati Brigade regarding suspicions of improper supervision of weaponry.

If only half these accusations are true and the brigade’s command echelon was unaware of them before Menashe reported about them on Israel Radio, there is clearly a severe problem of oversight. If the command echelon’s officers knew of it, dealt with it in partial fashion or perhaps even tried to prevent a criminal probe into one or two of the incidents, the problem is even worse.

Regarding the battalion commander, it seems that his days as a commander are numbered, despite the vigorous defense provided by the Chief Military Defender’s office. At the very least, he ought to be suspended until the accusations against him have been fully investigated. He is the subject of serious accusations by officers and soldiers, some of whom are still under his command. The fact that he led his troops in the recent war in Gaza cannot exonerate him before.

The Givati Brigade fought with courage and determination last summer and suffered many losses. During the war, the brigade’s commander, Col. Ofer Winter, became a kind of political lightning rod — which did him no good. His misguided statements in the battle order to the troops before going into the Gaza Strip drew a great deal of ire (far too much, in my opinion) from the left, while the right wing and the religious-Zionist public elevated him to hero status.

Winter has been considered an excellent and courageous combat commander for many years, including when he commanded the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion during the second intifada. But army officials are still arguing over several decisions that were made during the battles in Rafiah last summer. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that a high percentage of the irregularities that are currently being investigated by the Military Advocate General concern the sector in which Givati fought.

General Staff officials are well aware that the allegations reported on Tuesday may indicate a much more widespread problem in the Givati Brigade. Once a preliminary criminal investigation of the allegations has taken place, a command inquiry will follow.

A media outcry arose about two months ago, when it became clear that Winter would not be promoted anytime soon, but would be posted, still as a colonel, to a different position before being promoted in rank. The accusations grew harsher still when it turned out that Chief of Staff Benny Gantz had decided that the next Givati Brigade commander would not come from within Givati’s own ranks.

Gantz’s reasons for appointing Col. Yaron Finkelman, an alumnus of the Paratroopers’ Brigade, are even clearer now. Sometimes, when signs of commotion have been building up in a unit and the army needs to impose order, the solution is simple: call in a paratrooper.

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