Senior Israeli Military Commander Dies After Sudden Collapse During Training

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Col. Sharon Asman (L), on Monday.
Col. Sharon Asman (L), on Monday.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Col. Sharon Asman, the new commander of a leading IDF infantry brigade, died unexpectedly at age 43 on Thursday after collapsing in a fitness session.

The IDF is investigating the circumstances of his death at the Beit Lid base near Netanya. It appears Asman collapsed due to a heart failure.

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Asman's death comes just two and a half days after beginning what he saw as his dream job — as the commander of the Nahal infantry brigade, which combines active duty with work in West Bank settlements. 

The fitness session, which other officers from the brigade participated in, took place at the brigade headquarters on the base. Col. Yisrael Shomer, the previous commander of the Nahal Brigade and a good friend of Asman, will return to the post until a new brigade commander is appointed.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered his condolences to Asman's family. "He was one of our best. He gave the best years of his life to keep Israel safe. His untimely death is painful and unfortunate. Our hearts go out to his family."

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also praised Asman. "I remember him well, as a battalion commander in the 2014 Gaza War. He was sharp and focused, leading them heroically and with an inner peace that characterized him so much."

President Reuven Rivlin also extended his condolences, saying that Asman's death had broken the hearts of Israelis. Asman was a "Man of action with a big heart, who loved his subordinates and all those around him," Rivlin said. 

Asman stood out among the present generation of young commanders of combat units in the IDF. He served in a long list of positions in the IDF’s most important combat units, first in Southern Lebanon and later in the occupied territories. If not for his sudden death, he would most likely have reached the highest ranks of the army within five to seven years.

Asman enlisted in the Nahal in 1997, where he would go on to serve for most of his career. He served as a company commander twice, during the period of the Second Intifada, and was then appointed – in an unusual move – as the representative of the IDF Spokesman’s Unit in the Central Command.

The then-head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, decided to appoint a combat officer to the spokesman’s position, after having accumulated successful experience at the height of the fighting in the West Bank. Despite the vast differences between the two spheres, the transition was successful.

Asman served as spokesman during the period of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the evacuation of the houses of the Amona outpost and the Second Lebanon War – but then returned to the combat track. In meetings with him later, it was clear that he did not especially miss his days working with journalists.

He was a considered to be an exceptionally intelligent officer, whose modesty and reticence stood out in his military surroundings. Some of his commanders thought these characteristics might be a detriment as a more senior officer, but the commander of the Nahal Brigade at the time, Amir Abulafia – who later became a major general and the head of the IDF’s planning directorate – recognized his abilities and appointed him as a battalion commander.

As the commander of Battalion 931 of Nahal, he excelled in fighting in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, during which his battalion suffered casualties in the battles in Beit Hanoun. Asman was lightly wounded in the fighting and his battalion earned a commendation from the division commander.

Later on, he served as the commander of two regional brigades in the West Bank: Etzion, in the Bethlehem area, and then Binyamin, in the Ramallah area, where he led a broad organizational process in which he received responsibility for the region near Jerusalem too. For the past two years, he served as the operations officer for the Northern Command.

At the handover ceremony on Monday in Beit Lid, Asman said he was receiving the command of the Nahal Brigade, where he "fought and regretfully lost friends, commanders and subordinates,” with "an enormous sense of mission and commitment."

Asman leaves behind his wife Sharon and their two children. Details of his funeral will be announced shortly.

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