Israel's Watchdog to Probe Military Training Accidents

Focus of state comptroller investigation will be on elite units, which have been rife with mishaps, including fatal ones

Senior Israeli army officers at the scene of an accident where a cannon had rolled over during an IDF drill in the Golan Heights.
Gil Eliahu

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira will investigate IDF training accidents following recent deaths and injuries of soldiers, including two accidents in the Maglan commando units in the past two weeks.

In particular, the comptroller will scrutinize safety regulations in special units. He will also examine the army’s general attitude toward training, weapons and accidents. The examination will be directed by the head of the defense division in the comptroller’s office, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Beinhorn.

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In recent years the state comptroller and IDF ombudsman have released reports warning that the disregard for safety in elite units could lead to accidents. Despite this, the army acted to rectify the situation only after the accidents had taken place.

For example, in March, a Duvdevan combatant, Staff Sergeant Shahar Strug, was killed by a stray bullet fired accidentally by a fellow commando who was playing with his gun. A military inquiry concluded that “a culture of illegal use of weapons is prevalent in the unit.” The unit commander’s promotion was revoked. But a year earlier, three incidents in which bullets had been accidentally fired were not reported or acted on.

The comptroller addressed the issue of safety in training in reports he released in the last two years. He concluded in those reports that some of the accidents could have been avoided if the IDF had acted differently. In one case, the comptroller found the army wasn’t passing the accident-inquiries’ findings to all the units, and that officers were carrying out safety inquiries without being qualified to do so.

Now the comptroller plans to dig deeper into the issue than in his 2016 and 2017 reports, and check if the army has implemented his conclusions. 

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The Maglan unit was mentioned numerous times in the ombudsman and comptroller’s investigations. Ombudsman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik criticized Maglan in 2014 after a combatant had become sterile because his complaint of testicle pain during training was not heeded, and his commander refused to have him taken to hospital for medical treatment.

 In recent years a number of incidents reflected problems in Maglan commanders’ attitude to safety issues and accidents. In 2003 Maglan soldiers shot two civilian security guards, Yehuda Ben-Yosef and Yoav Doron, at an outpost in south Hebron, after mistaking them for armed Palestinians. The inquiry into the incident found that Maglan soldiers had fired a very large amount of ammunition at the guards – about 1,000 shells and 17 bombs – much more than required.

In 2007 dozens of Maglan combatants refused to complete their training in the south, saying they had not eaten for three days and had been subjected to humiliating treatment. About a year ago journalist Haim Rivlin published a report about the abuse Maglan soldiers had suffered. One of the soldiers described ongoing degradations and severe violence against him.
“Before a track test I told my commander I wasn’t feeling well,” the soldier told Rivlin. “He told me to stop whining. He started screaming at me, ‘Stop being a girl, you’re not suitable to the unit.’”

The soldier, who was crippled following his service in Maglan, said he suffered from violence at the commanders’ hands as well. The IDF said in response that the soldier had received adequate medical care and that this incident should not be taken as an example of the goings on in the unit.

However, it appears that the recent incidents can be taken as an example of the goings on in Maglan. Maglan and Duvdevan are elite units and the soldiers who enlist to them are put through extremely difficult training. The culture in these units sometimes leads the commanders to push soldiers beyond their endurance limits and beyond requirements, putting their safety at risk.

Following the accidents in Maglan, Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot ordered a halt to training until all exercise reports were examined and inquiries completed. The army has also set up a team headed by Gen. Maj. Itay Virov to examine conduct by commanders in Maglan and all other elite units.