Everything That Can Be Said About the Mysterious Death of an Israeli Intel Officer

A military court permitted the public to see additional information about the circumstances of the jailing and death of the intel officer, but a gag order remains in force regarding much else in the affair

Yaniv Kubovich
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The officer's grave, today.
The officer's grave, today.Credit: רמי שלוש
Yaniv Kubovich

Many questions remain about the army intelligence officer who died in prison last month, even after a military court this week reduced the scope of a gag order placed on the affair. Haaretz has assembled all the facts that have been released to the public as well as those that the defense establishment has yet to provide.

Who was the officer?

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The military court has banned the media from publishing the officer’s name, age or picture, even though his picture and personal information were posted on social media.

Those who knew the officer say he was regarded as a prodigy in the field of computers, which he studied in high school. At age 16, he participated in a program to encourage high-tech entrepreneurship for young people and completed a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He joined the Israel Defense Forces in March 2016 and served in an intelligence branch tech unit.

His friends told Haaretz he was an idealistic and brilliant individual who succeeded in all the assignments he was given. “He was a man of values and ideals, and they guided him in his work and in his philosophy of life,” said one.

A former colleague of his at a high-tech company described the officer as “one of the smartest and most talented people I have ever met,” “a person dedicated to work and a huge contributor” and “a real asset wherever he worked.” Another described him as one of the best professionals he had ever encountered, even when he was only 17 years old. “He could do in a few hours things that others would need days or weeks to complete. His thinking was so quick he made computers look slow.”

When was the officer arrested and on what charges?

The officer was arrested last September and indicted the same month on serious national security violations, the substance of which has been barred from publication. What has been made public is that the allegations involved serious damage to Israel’s national security. The army says that its investigation revealed that the officer was aware how serious the harm was and sought to cover it up.

The army says the officer had not been working for any foreign agent nor had he been in contact with any hostile countries or organizations. He cooperated with investigators and admitted to many of the offenses of which he was suspected. “The investigation found that he was working independently, for personal reasons and not for ideological, national and financial reasons,” the IDF says.

His family and their attorney, Benny Kuznitz, say the officer did confess to the violations attributed to him but insisted he had no intention of harming Israel’s national security.

Where was the officer jailed and under what conditions?

The officer was initially jailed in Prison 4, a military facility, under his real name and was later transferred to a new facility at Neveh Tsedek near Kfar Yona, where he shared a cell with two others. There, cameras are used to monitor all the cells and public areas, except for bathrooms.

According to the army, the officer was provided with medical care, including psychological care, while he was imprisoned. They say his family was allowed visits and to remain in regular contact with him after he had signed a document promising to not talk to them about his offenses and the indictment against him.

What happened the night of his death?

The officer’s relatives say that on the eve of the Shavuot holiday on May 16, a few hours before he died, the officer had called his parents. They say he didn’t sound troubled and had asked them to bring him clothing, personal belongings and a care package. Family members say that conditions had improved after his move to the new prison and that he was in good spirits.

On the evening of his death, the officer told his cellmates that he was feeling unwell and then vomited. A short time later, he collapsed and lost consciousness, and his cellmates called for help. The officer was discovered to have had prescription psychiatric medication in his possession. He was transferred at about 1 A.M. in serious condition to Laniado Hospital in Netanya, where he was pronounced dead. Relatives were only notified of his death at 5 A.M. When they arrived at the hospital, they were told that his body had been moved to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv.

Who investigated the circumstances of the officer’s death?

The IDF Internal Investigations Unit has been appointed to conduct the probe. The unit is responsible for criminal investigations against military police accused of offenses during the performance of their duties, making it the military equivalent of the police’s internal affairs branch. Nati Levitt, a reserve officer with the rank of colonel, has headed the unit since 2013. The unit has been subject to considerable criticism about its work, which critics say is not taken seriously by the army as a whole. A former chief army prosecutor, Col. (res.) Ehud Eliezer, will be joining the prosecutorial team accompanying the internal investigation’s probe.

An autopsy of the officer was performed in the presence of a pathologist representing the family and a representative of the army’s internal investigations unit. The autopsy showed no signs of bruises or of suicide by hanging or death due to any other injury, thereby ruling out violence as a cause of death. Results from tests of toxins from tissue samples are still pending. Thus, the cause of death has not yet been determined.

Why was the officer buried in a civilian cemetery?

The IDF spokesman said the officer was discharged from the army during his arrest at his request. Therefore, the spokesman explained, “under the Military Cemeteries Law, under the circumstances, he could not be interred at a military cemetery.”

The army added that “a detainee whose arrest is pending in military court continues to be jailed in a military prison even if he has been discharged from service during his detention.”

Holding a civilian in a military jail is permitted under the law, if the detainees committed their offenses as a soldier and in connection with military service. That can be the case if the offenses occurred within six months to a year after their discharge, depending on the seriousness of the alleged crime. After their conviction, the detainees can petition a special committee to serve out the sentence in a civilian prison.

The officer’s relatives say that before his funeral, several officers from the unit in which he served asked if they could attend, but the family turned them down. The family is asking that the officer be recognized as a soldier who died in service and that they be formally designated a bereaved family. The family was surprised to discover he was being buried in a civilian cemetery and say they have no idea why he had asked to be discharged from the army. The family demands to know whether he was pressured to do so.

Unanswered questions

The army has not disclosed what kind of medical and psychological care the officer received while he was in military prison and whether he had shown suicidal tendencies. In addition, no evidence that may have been gathered by prison cameras before his death has been made public.

In addition, nothing is known about the interface between the army technology unit the officer served in and the civilian market, what kind of controls were instituted in the unit over work conditions, or what kind of support services are offered to its soldiers. Likewise, it is not clear why the officer’s family was prevented from examining the indictment until this week.

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