On Monday, January 7, 2019, Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi drowned in the Hilazon Stream. According to a Haaretz investigative report, his death was the tragic and unnecessary result of a chain of command blunders that occurred during a navigation exercise by a Paratroops Brigade patrol battalion. The series of foul-ups later became a series of cover-ups, attempts at silencing, false testimony and obstructed investigations. All these led to an intolerable result: A soldier died for nothing, yet his commanders continued to move up the ranks of the army.
The errors that led to Yosefi’s death began even before the exercise. The navigation file, which had been sent for approval to the Parks and Nature Authority, was falsified, with parts of it copied from old files. The emergency numbers were not updated; the number of hours the soldiers could sleep were reduced from six to four or five; the weight of the equipment they had to carry exceeded what was permitted; and at a time when other units had canceled training because bad weather was forecast, the patrol unit refused to do so.
The mistakes continued during the exercise itself: The cold should have led to it being stopped; the commanders never got to the end point; the commanders in the command post were sleeping during much of the exercise; when the soldiers reported their difficulties to their commanders, the latter dismissed them contemptuously (“don’t call again until you finish”); and the exercise continued even when one soldier completed it with hypothermia (a body temperature of 33.1).
Only when Yosefi was swept to his death in the stream was the exercise stopped. That’s when the cover-ups started, beginning with a horrifying scene: Three senior officers – the brigade commander Col. Yaki Dolef, the patrol battalion commander Lt. Col. Yishai Rosilio, and the commander for battalion training Maj. Yotam Roff stood on the bank of the stream in front of Yosefi’s floating body and started berating the soldier who had been with Yosefi during his last moments, in an effort to force him to state that it was his performance in the field that led to the disaster.
Subsequently there came to light testimony, reports and documents, some of which had been concealed, indicating that commanders and the top brass of the Israel Defense Forces, including Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi, had taken steps to protect those thought to have a promising future in the army. The result: very mild plea agreements, none of which put those responsible behind bars. Rosilio was sentenced to a one-month suspended sentence, while Dolef was promoted to brigadier general and is now Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s military secretary.
Instead of Yosefi’s death serving the IDF as an opportunity to clean up its act and take responsibility, it has become a symbol of the army’s cover-up culture and its preference for advancing senior officers. The question asked by Yosefi’s mother, Dalia, “What did we lose Evyatar for?” remains hanging.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.