Military Police Commander Dismissed After Suicide of Soldier-turned-informant

Investigators failed to report on the distress of Cpl. Niv Lubaton, whom they tried persuading to inform on alleged illegal drug use by fellow soldiers, military investigation shows

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Givati Brigade soldiers attending a military ceremony in southern Israel, 2017.
Givati Brigade soldiers attending a military ceremony in southern Israel, 2017. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi dismissed Monday one Military Police commander and reprimanded another for mishandling the case of a distressed soldier who committed suicide in 2019. 

Cpl. Niv Lubaton of the Givati Brigade took his own life after two Military Police intelligence coordinators had sought to recruit him as an informant against fellow soldiers, an investigation conducted by the military shows.  

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The investigation found flaws in the Military Police’s handling of the case. According to the findings, the intelligence coordinators had failed to report on the signs of distress Lubaton showed in conversations with them, and did not show the proper sensitivity after the soldier went missing, hours before his body was found.

Both coordinators were indicted in military court in September for not reporting on the psychological distress of the soldier and with providing false reports, disobeying orders and improper behavior.

After the findings of the investigation were released, Kochavi decided to dismiss an officer at the rank of major, a former commander of the Military Police station in the southern city of Be’er Sheva. The officer will not be allowed to serve in any command post and cannot be promoted in the next six years.

In addition, a lieutenant colonel, who once headed the southern district of the Military Police investigation’s unit, was reprimanded by the head of the IDF’s personnel directorate, Maj. Gen, Moti Almoz, for his role in the incident. 

Kochavi also approved reprimands for the brigade, battalion and company commanders at the base for squad leaders' training course in which Lubaton was a cadet. Even though the investigation found that the chain of command did not have any direct, or indirect, responsibility for the death of the soldier, they were reprimanded for taking insufficient action in the search for Lubaton when he went missing.

Kochavi said Lubaton’s suicide is a “severe incident,” adding that “we must do everything to prevent such an event in the future.” Gathering intelligence, investigations and other such activities must be conducted with sensitivity, interest in and care for the soldier – and the Military Police’s investigations unit must draw the necessary conclusions and implement them, Kochavi said.

Kochavi ordered that rules be updated for Military Police investigators in cases where a soldier goes missing. According to the indictment, in January 2019, the defendants – identified only as A. and P. – summoned Lubaton to a Military Police base in Be’er Sheva to persuade him to inform on alleged illegal drug use by fellow soldiers. At the meeting, the soldier signed a document agreeing to be an informant.

An hour and a half later, he called P. and said he had changed his mind and that he wanted to meet with a mental health officer because he was emotionally distressed. P. told A., who was training P. as an investigator, about the conversation and said he thought the soldier was seriously considering suicide. A. did not take the matter seriously.

Both men were charged with failing to report Lubaton’s mental state even though they were required to do so. The soldier called P. again the next day and told him he hoped the Military Police would change the way they operated – and P. said he would keep their conversation confidential. But when they finished talking, P. sent A. a recording of the conversation.

The soldier was reported missing the next day, and his body was found a few hours later, near his base.

The commander of both Military Police officers and their colleagues joined a search party for the soldier. P.'s commander spoke with him about Lubaton, but P. kept quiet about his fears that the soldier might harm himself. Later P. and A. acknowledged concerns to one another, saying they had made a mistake in failing to report on the soldier’s distress, yet they still did nothing about it.

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