IDF Not Likely to Drop Internal Gaza War Probe, Despite Pressure

IDF objections to criminal investigations of wartime acts have been voiced for years, but petitioners rejecting this inquiry don't get what they're up against.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Palestinians search destroyed cars in Rafah's district of Shawkah in the southern Gaza Strip. August 5, 2014.
Palestinians search destroyed cars in Rafah's district of Shawkah in the southern Gaza Strip. August 5, 2014.Credit: AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The exceptionally widespread attack against the Israel Defense Forces military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, is continuing in full force. After politicians and opinion-piece writers in newspapers have come out against the investigations of various military actions during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip – now it is the turn for petitions.

First there was one from reservists from the Givati Brigade reconnaissance battalion, and now there is a new petition, signed by hundreds of officers and combat soldiers in the reserves. The heavy pressure is being directed not only at Efroni, but also at his superiors – who are being asked to order the MAG to stop all Military Police investigations into the latest round of fighting in Gaza.

Objections to such criminal inquiries into military operations have been voiced in the IDF for decades, but the arguments usually begin at the stage when it looks like indictments are about to be filed against officers. This time, the line in the sand has been drawn at a much earlier stage, even before certain aspects of the investigation were officially launched.

The current debacle erupted over the battle in Rafah following the abduction on August 1 of Lt. Hadar Goldin: At issue is Efroni's dithering over whether to order a criminal investigation into the actions of Givati commander Col. Ofer Winter and other officers in the brigade, due to the intensity of the firepower and force they used in that battle.

In the background, however, is a much broader debate. What is happening is an attempt to stop the criminal investigation completely – and also, indirectly, to rein in operational inquiries so they will not spill over into the drafting of serious recommendations vis-a-vis the future of those involved.

The Israel Defense Forces military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni.Credit: Moti Milrod

There is a lot of holy fury surrounding this affair, but also quite a lot of ignorance and hypocrisy. It is doubtful whether all 250 of those who signed the second petition know, for example, that Efroni ordered the opening of 13 investigations, five of which deal with suspicions of looting (a matter which it seems the signatories would likely support), but only three of which concern the deaths of a large number of Palestinians during the Gaza operation.

The need to return to operational inquiries is mentioned in the second petition, but the signers ignore the fact that Efroni opened the majority of the Military Police's criminal inquiries based on the findings of a team involved in just such an investigation and evaluation of Protective Edge, headed by Maj. Gen. Noam Tivon.

In the background behind all these disputes is the hostility between Efroni and the GOC Southern Command, Maj. Gen, Sami Turgeman, which broke out after the decision by the MAG to question Winter under caution in the matter of suspicions of sexual harassment and other alleged crimes in Givati's Tzabar Battalion.

It is hard to ignore the fact that Efroni has earned himself a large number of enemies, who today are already outside the IDF, because of his militant investigative strategy in the Harpaz affair. (In that case, a document was forged, allegedly by Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, with the goal of smearing Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, the leading candidate for IDF chief of staff in 2011, in an attempt to thwart Galant’s appointment.)

Meanwhile, a number of politicians have joined in the effort to block criminal investigations of Operation Protective Edge, including Moshe Kahlon and Naftali Bennett, who has even declared that “there will be no investigation of the heroic brigade.”

It is doubtful whether the uproar will have an effect on the MAG. Efroni is well known for being quite stubborn, and decisions to open investigations are completely within his authority. It is hard to imagine Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz intervening in those decisions, or finding a way to put pressure on Efroni. The MAG has already served in his post for three and a half years, and seems to be setting his sights on a senior civilian judicial post after he leaves the military.

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