Last month’s flooding at the Hatzor airbase caused around 30 million shekels ($9 million) worth of damage to the planes stationed there, according to interim results of an army probe that were released Tuesday.
The report also said that it was a mistake to initially hide the flood damage from the public. The probe found that soldiers at the base were trapped in the planes' underground hangers during the flooding, and their lives were saved by fellow soldiers.
Following the probe's findings, the base commander will be removed from his post. Senior air force and General Staff officers were absolved of responsibility for the incident, despite the fact that they were aware of the incident and its flawed handling. The base commander was slated to leave his post soon in any case, and will not be barred from assuming his next planned post as one of the army's overseas military attaches. Three additional squadron commanders were reprimanded for their role in the incident.
“The base was improperly prepared for the storm, though they anticipated it,” Brig Gen. Nir Barkan, the air force chief of staff, said Tuesday. “They did not take all the necessary actions or give all the necessary instructions. Proper professional conduct in good time would have prevented or significantly reduced the damage."
The flooding damaged several fighter jets and other equipment too, Barkan said. “It was clear that flooding would occur, given the forecast, and this required prompt action to remove the planes from the underground hangar,” he added.
Initially, the military censor prohibited reporting on the flood damage, citing security considerations. Even after publication was permitted, the information released by the army was misleading and partial. Delaying the release of the information was a mistake, Barkan admitted.
Nevertheless, nobody will be punished for it, at least for now. The only penalties recommended by the interim report were against officers stationed at Hatzor.
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The report praised the soldiers at the base who worked to rescue their trapped comrades and prevented loss of life. Their efforts also prevented even worse property damage, it said.
Three of the damaged planes are still grounded, and won’t be active for months. Nevertheless, the squadron has resumed operational activity.