Navy Commander Escapes With Reprimand Over Strip Club Jaunt

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi gave navy commander Adm. Eliezer Marom a verbal reprimand for having been caught at a Tel Aviv strip club on Monday.

After Yedioth Ahronoth reported yesterday morning that a "senior officer" had been seen at the Go-Go Girls strippers club on Monday, the IDF hoped it would blow over. But once Marom's name was published later that day, Ashkenazi had no choice but to address the matter. Thus yesterday evening, he summoned Marom to his office.

According to the IDF Spokesman's Office, Marom told Ashkenazi he "was aware that the incident did not accord with what is expected of an officer of his rank, expressed regret that the incident had hurt the IDF's moral standing and apologized." Ashkenazi then rebuked him verbally for behavior unbecoming an officer. Contrary to what many officers had expected, however, he did not post the reprimand in Marom's record.

The incident was the talk of the navy yesterday, but no one was willing to comment on the record.

"Its certainly doesn't do us honor, and we just hope the story will blow over as soon as possible," one senior officer said, requesting anonymity. He noted that the navy was barely recovering from its humiliation during the Second Lebanon War, when a Hezbollah missile struck a naval warship due to what turned out to be negligence on the navy's part, and the latest scandal does not help the effort to rehabilitate its image.

"I don't understand [Marom]," another officer said. "He waited so long to get this job; he couldn't have waited until his three-year term was up before doing such a thing?"

An eyewitness told Haaretz that Marom came to the club by himself, in mufti, and stayed for about half an hour. That contradicts what Marom himself said - that he came to attend a friend's party. After the striptease, one of the strippers came over and danced with him, the witness said.

Club employees added that Marom has been there several times before.

Koby Mizrachi, the club's owner, said he was furious that the story hit the press, as discretion is important to his club's success. Many famous people come to Go-Go, he said, but until now, the press has refrained from publishing their names. He added that he was thinking of suing.

Marom, 53, is a controversial figure in the navy. Though almost no one disputes his seamanship and operational abilities, some question his character. That is why, despite the fact that he had held virtually every senior post in the navy and presided over successful operations such as the capture of the Karine A arms smuggling ship in 2002, former navy chief Yedidya Be'eri opposed Marom's appointment as his replacement, resulting in David Ben-Besht getting the job instead.

Only after Ben-Besht was forced to resign following the Second Lebanon War did Marom finally get the coveted post. He was seen as the man who could rehabilitate the navy's operational capabilities. And in fact, senior IDF officers praised the navy's conduct during the recent fighting in Gaza. But now, the character issue has come to the fore again.

"No one should be surprised," said one former naval officer. "It is precisely because of things like this that he was passed over last time ... He doesn't have the proper moral character for a fleet commander."

This is not the first sexual scandal to hit the navy: In the late 1970s, then-commander of the navy Michael Barkai was charged with raping a female subordinate. He was ultimately acquitted due to doubt, but ousted as commander by then-defense minister Ezer Weizman.