IDF Mustn't Interfere With Probe Into Gaza War

Road to improving conduct of Israeli military lies in seeking truth, drawing lessons from what happened.

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Israeli soldiers fire artillery towards the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge.
Israeli soldiers fire artillery towards the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge. Credit: AFP

The Israel Defense Forces’ attempts to halt criminal investigations launched by its Military Police branch following last summer’s Operation Protective Edge could boomerang and ultimately weaken it. In contrast to expressions such as “heroism needs no investigation” uttered by Habayit Hayehudi MKs Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, the road to improving the conduct of the IDF lies in seeking the truth and drawing lessons from what happened.

The need for the investigations, led by Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, stems not only from external pressures such as concerns over international probes – which grew last week after the Palestinians applied to join the International Criminal Court. A genuine internal investigation by Israel will reduce international pressure on it and may prevent the summoning of IDF personnel to The Hague. However, the main motive for launching it should be to strengthen the IDF, both from a moral standpoint and with regard to operational and professional considerations.

An organization calling itself “the most moral army in the world” cannot ignore suspicions over the mass killing of innocent civilians, such as the bombing of a home in Khan Yunis on July 20, in which 27 people were killed. The same goes for what has been termed “Black Friday” in Rafah, where between 130 and 150 Palestinians were killed in response to the attempted abduction of 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin. There has been no decision yet regarding the opening of an investigation into this incident. An important body such as the IDF cannot ignore operational blunders that emerge through investigations – especially in light of previous experience, which shows that such cases received insufficient attention during military operation debriefings.

The summary of operational debriefings by the IDF only shows the image both it and the political echelon want to project: That Operation Protective Edge was an operational success, which extracted a necessary and “reasonable” price in civilian casualties.

The new chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), said he would block the publication of the conclusions of a committee that investigated flaws in the IDF’s preparations for confronting Hamas, or how the security cabinet functioned. In light of this, the Military Police probes may serve as the only counterweight to attempts to impose wishful thinking on any investigation, as well as on public opinion.

In order for the IDF to be prepared to deal with future threats, its senior officers and supporters on the right must not be allowed to interfere with the probes. Anyone leading troops into battle and in charge of protecting civilians must be required to tell the truth.

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Clarification: The number of Palestinians killed in Rafah on August 1, 2014, remains unclear; according to an IDF investigation, 41 Palestinians were killed, while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights puts the figure at 123.

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