Editorial

Israel's Military Is Drowning in a Cover-up Culture

An IDF fighter jet damaged due to heavy rainfall that flooded an army base in southern Israel.

It’s hard not to get the impression that the interim findings in the affair involving F-16s that were flooded at Hatzor Air Force Base last month were meant mainly for self-protection – to prevent responsibility from being placed on senior officials in the army’s General Staff and the air force. According to the findings, the damage to the jets was estimated at 30 million shekels ($8.7 million).

The air force admitted that the base was not properly prepared for flooding and that soldiers required rescue. Likewise, it admitted that there was improper and cynical cooperation with the chief censor, Brig. Gen. Ariella Ben-Avraham, who served to rubber stamp the request by the IDF top brass to prevent the dissemination of information to the public on national security grounds.

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Although the three commanders were reprimanded and the Hatzor base commander resigned, the impression is that the publication of the interim conclusions was not meant to fix what was wrong, but rather to protect personal image and engage in professional damage control for defense establishment leaders.

The attempt by the air force commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, to put a positive spin to the request of Col. A., the Hatzor base commander, to resign from his position earlier than requested (just before taking on his new role as military attache abroad), and to the reprimand of the three squad commanders on the base, seems an almost desperate attempt to protect those on the base who were responsible for the failure. The whole goal is to deflect any responsibility from Norkin and the other senior officers, who were responsible for the decisions they made in their offices at headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Norkin needed a month to admit that the media policy was mistaken and that there was no justification for delaying publication on national security grounds. Even today, no one in the air force or the IDF is revealing who decided to prevent publication about the soldiers’ difficult situation and about the damage caused to the planes and equipment. It isn’t hard to guess that it wasn’t the decision of those reprimanded, as decisions of this type go through the office of the air force commander, the IDF spokesperson’s office and, it’s reasonable to assume, the chief of staff’s office.

The behavior of the military brass in this affair is a continuation of the problematic media behavior of recent months, which puts to the test the public’s trust in the IDF. A direct line runs between the Hatzor flooding through the fudging of data regarding female fighters in the Armored Corps, through the faking of the number of Haredi recruits, through the release of errant information regarding the circumstances of the deaths of eight family members from the Sawaraka clan in Rafah, through the announcement of the “elimination” of senior Islamic Jihad figure Rasmi Abu Malhus, the invented enemy who was portrayed as being “in charge of the group’s rocket units.”

The Hatzor incident led to the grounding of three planes for a number of months and the ruination of equipment worth millions of shekels. The damage to the military’s credibility in the eyes of citizens, soldiers and officers is much costlier.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.