Israeli Army Probe Into Soldier’s Death in Exercise Finds Warnings Were Ignored

Commanders are said to have initially dismissed reports that a soldier had been swept away in the stream, 'destroying basic trust between soldiers and their commanders'

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Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi
Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi

The Israeli army’s investigation into the drowning of a soldier in January in the Hilazon stream, near Carmiel in Israel's north, has concluded that the military exercise in which the soldier was participating at the time was “riddled with mishaps, a failure to carry out orders and unprofessional conduct.”

Evyatar Yosefi, a soldier in a paratroop patrol battalion, drowned on January 7 after falling into the swollen Hilazon stream. He was swept away by the current.

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The army’s report noted that not all of the required approvals for the exercise had been obtained and that one form had been forged. In addition, the senior commanders were unfamiliar with the orders and the specific navigation plans for the drill. When hail began falling and the temperature dropped drastically, the brigade and division commanders were not asked for permission to proceed with the exercise.

Haaretz’s own investigation of the incident, which was based on accounts from soldiers who took part in the navigation exercise and others, found that the commanders had received warnings that could have prevented Yosefi’s death, but they refused to take the warnings into consideration. “There were a thousand warning signals before and during the navigation,” one of the soldiers said. “Everybody chose not to see them, or to ignore them. They said they didn’t want weak soldiers.”

The army’s own report, which was obtained by Haaretz on Thursday, concluded that “the basic trust between the soldiers and their commanders had been destroyed.” The army’s probe found that the medics involved in the exercise wanted to call it off. The soldiers had reported a strong flow of water in the stream, but the exercise was not called off even after one soldier suffered from hypothermia.

The commanders are also said initially to have reacted dismissively to reports that Yosefi had been swept away in the stream, as if the soldiers were “crybabies.”

Paratroopers and search teams in the Hilazon Stream area, January 7, 2019.Credit: Firefighter's Spokesperson's Office

The commanders also reportedly told the soldiers involved that their account of the incident would affect the company commander’s future. Some of the soldiers said they had the impression that an attempt was made to coordinate a version of the events ahead of the investigation.

The army’s investigation concluded that the numerous malfunctions and failures over the incident reflect a “low quality of performance and a lack of attention to detail,” adding that the commanders had been expected to be present on the ground to ensure that the exercise could be carried out despite the bad weather.

“The event stemmed from failures due to lack of professionalism and discipline, faulty judgment and bad decision-making. The commanders failed both professionally and morally,” Col. Oren Simha, who headed the investigation, and Col. Uriah Hetzroni, the chief safety officer, concluded.

Five officers were dismissed from their positions following the incident and the commander of the paratrooper brigade, Col. Ya’akov Dolef, received an official reprimand for failing to prevent Yosefi’s drowning.

For his part, Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said: “There’s a difference between a mistake and a malfunction, so there is one clear rule. We will provide backing for a mistake of judgment, [but] we will condemn judgment that exceeds the realm of what’s reasonable or a malfunction resulting from a failure to carrying out orders.” A failure to follow orders, Kochavi said, is a “red flag.”

The Israeli army spokesman said the investigation found a series of failures and malfunctions after examining all of the aspects of the exercise. For his part, Chief of Staff Kochavi issued a number of orders relating to safety in the army including specific steps to be taken by commanders in the paratroop brigade.

The army provided the Yosefi family with the finding from the investigation and answered their questions. The army spokesman said he could not comment on an ongoing military police investigation into the case.