The Givati Brigade Investigation Hinders the Entire IDF

If every problem in the Israel Defense Forces were a criminal matter, new recruits would go to the police each time an officer shoved or insulted them.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.
Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ofer Winter (C), IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) and GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman (L) confer during Operation Protective Edge, August 2, 2014.Credit: Yehuda Gross / IDF Spokesperson
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Will Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz be questioned under caution by the Military Police in the Givati Brigade investigation? And if he was involved in the alleged misconduct, why did he permit himself to issue a statement of “full support” for investigators and to address the issue in front of all IDF unit commanders?

These questions come up when the twisted logic of the high-ranking part of the investigation is taken to absurd lengths. The appropriate, lower-ranking investigation, attempts to clarify the conduct of the commander of the brigade’s Tzabar Battalion, Col. Liran Hajbi, who is suspected of committing sexual offenses against female soldiers and of covering up complaints by certain male soldiers and officers against others. These matters should be addressed in a criminal investigation.

The “superior” part of the case involves the chain of command down to Hajbi. Chief of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman forwarded to Gantz a report by Givati commander Lt. Col. Ofer Winter about activities in Tzabar.

If Winter was questioned under caution for his faulty handling of Hajbi and his battalion, and particularly for Winter’s failure to report what he knew to military law enforcement, then common sense and justice demands that Turgeman and Gantz should be questioned in the same manner.

The criminal and disciplinary tracks are separate but intertwined, in a way that is supposed to be unique to the army. If every problem in the army were a criminal matter, then every new recruit would be filing a police complaint every time his commander shoved or insulted him, and every military advocate general would be investigated for breach of trust, and not just for conduct unbecoming an officer under military law — for example, after Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni chose not to investigate officers who served in the bureau of then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to whom Efroni owes his appointment. If Efroni has faults, ingratitude is not one of them.

Gantz did not want Efroni. He opposed the appointment and asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to scuttle it. But as Weinstein was deliberating, Gantz — at a breakfast with Weinstein — admitted that he was deferring to Barak because he had been the most decorated chief of staff to date.

The deal that brought Efroni back from retirement to active service and jumped him two ranks within a year brought to a head a scandal that began around 15 years earlier.

Up until then, the military advocate general held the rank of brigadier general. The IDF, which scorns civilian oversight, says the major-general rank conferred on the military advocate general is the same one given in 1963 to then-chief military rabbi Shlomo Goren and later to his successors Mordechai Piron and Gad Navon, and that if the army wants it can move ranks from one shoulder to another. (After Navon retired, in 2000, the position of chief rabbi was “demoted” to brigadier general).

The IDF has 88 brigadiers general and 24 majors general. It’s interesting that the position given the boost in rank was the military advocate general and not, for example, the chief medical officer, since devoted medical care is assured the top military echelons. They are more concerned with committees of inquiry and the High Court of Justice.

The last military advocate general who wasn’t a major general, Uri Shoham, is now a Supreme Court justice, and he isn’t particularly impressed by the rank or the professionalism of the current military advocate general; twice in six months Shoham reprimanded Efroni in court. Another military advocate general might have resigned in the face of such criticism. Not Efroni.

If Gantz were the only one to eat the mess that he cooked up, then the resulting heartburn would have been his private problem. But Efroni is hindering the entire army. Winter, after issuing his order of battle couching Operation Protective Edge as a religious war, drew intense disciplinary fire, but was not subject to a criminal investigation.

“Disciplinary steps (that balance a number of values, including fulfilling IDF missions, preserving human life, training that saves lives in battle, backing up commanders in order to prevent harm to the chain of command, and more) and criminal procedures need not be identical,” wrote chief of staff-designate Gadi Eisenkot, as he explained his differing positions on the two tracks, in connection with his declaration on behalf of a failed commander.

But if, from now on, everything is criminal, then on the contrary, then let justice be done to the fullest extent to the lieutenant general —and to the military advocate general.

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