Israeli Army: ‘Operational Failure’ Nearly Led to Major Escalation on Lebanon Border in September

Military ambulance carrying five soldiers should not have been in range of Hezbollah missiles on the Lebanon border during tensions in early September

Weapons fire in the area of the Lebanese border, Sept. 2019.
Aziz Taher/Reuters

The army has concluded that an incident in which a military ambulance drove within range of Hezbollah anti-tank fire from Lebanon last month was a “severe operational failure.”

According to the army’s report, which was released on Sunday, two missiles were launched at the ambulance, which was traveling on a road that had been declared closed to traffic. The missiles missed the ambulance and the five soldiers inside escaped, narrowly avoiding a large-scale escalation.

Following publication of the report, Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi ordered that the lieutenant colonel in command of the battalion involved and his deputy be reprimanded and that the commander of the brigade involved be summoned for clarifications.

The incident occurred in early September, about a week after two booby-trapped Israeli drones hit a device that improves the precision of missiles at a Hezbollah compound in Beirut’s Dahieh quarter. The Hezbollah militia accused Israel of dispatching the drones, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to attack Israel “anywhere possible along the border fence.” Anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon at an Israeli army base and military vehicles in the Galilee. No one was injured.

In preparation for a possible response by Hezbollah, the army beefed up its forces in the north during the weekend prior to the ambulance incident, cancelled all leaves for combat personnel, deploying aerial defense systems and reducing military patrols along the border with both Lebanon and Syria.

The army report on the incident revealed deficiencies in the conduct of the deputy battalion commander, who authorized vehicles to use a road closed to traffic, and the battalion commander, who did not properly handle the evacuation of the Avivim base and left it exposed and unsupervised.

According to the report, the soldiers who were in the ambulance when it entered the area in range of Hezbollah anti-tank missiles had received authorization to use the road from the deputy brigade commander, who acted against procedures requiring approval from a more senior officer and only under special circumstances.

In addition, the investigation revealed that the brigade had not carried out proper oversight and that supervision of vehicle traffic was faulty. This was also one of the conclusions of the investigation into the firing of anti-tank missiles at a bus on the border with Gaza last year. In that case, a disciplinary notation was made in the brigade commander’s file, and the battalion commander said he had learned lessons from the incident and had developed a plan to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Nevertheless, it does not appear that significant steps were taken to avoid a repeat of this kind of incident.