With His Latest Decision, Israel's Military Chief Risks Losing Public Trust

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Aviv Kochavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the IDF's Central Command, this week.
Aviv Kochavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the IDF's Central Command, this week.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The decision made by Israel's Chief of Staff to approve the promotion of an army official who was convicted and removed from his post for his responsibility in the death of a soldier who drowned during a navigation exercise is a badge of dishonor for the army. 

Two months after the 2019 incident, in which the Israel Defense Forces Evyatar Yosefi died, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi removed Lt. Col. Yishai Rozilio from office.

But it now turns out that although he may not be suitable to be the commander of a paratrooper reconnaissance battalion, there is no one more worthy of being appointed the commander of the Yehuda Brigade.

Furthermore, Rozilio’s responsibility for Yosefi’s death did not stop Kochavi from promoting him to the rank of colonel (as reported by Yaniv Kubovich in Haaretz's Hebrew edition on November 23).

“Incident investigations are the cornerstone of building an army; each inquiry must extract all the facts and draw conclusions with honesty,” Kochavi said last year, after it came to light that the army lied about the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts.

“We will always do so, presenting the truth, the whole truth, only the truth, as well as contending with the implications of this truth,” he vowed, explaining that misrepresenting facts is a betrayal of the pact of trust that exists between the IDF and Israeli society, which places its sons and daughters in the hands of the army.

Where exactly are the implications of the truth in the case of Rozilio?

Rozilio did not assume responsibility for his actions and for the results of the disaster in Hilazon Stream when he was investigated. He only did so after his lawyer reached a plea bargain with military prosecutors.

This is not an exceptional case. Col. Yaakov Dolef, the brigade commander at the time, was promoted to brigadier general while the investigation was still underway. He was later appointed as military secretary to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a role that assures the next promotion.

On Tuesday it also became known that Capt. Guy Eliahu, an officer in the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, would be promoted despite the fact that a team he commanded crossed the border into Syria without permission, running into trouble and killing innocent Syrians.

The IDF was not interested in the fact that Eliyahu has stood trial in a military court on several occasions and served time in prison, and that his conduct during and following an investigation by Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram reflected “a failure of command and values.” It has now been decided to appoint him as safety officer in Division 99, a new division established by Kochavi.

An army in which officers who have strayed get promoted, and in which investigations, recommendations and lessons have no weight, is an army that loses public trust. It’s therefore not surprising that in a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, a third of the respondents gave the army negative marks in anything related to attention to soldiers and their problems.

If Kochavi doesn’t change this approach soon, he’ll discover that his legacy will be one consisting of a culture of lies and of covering butts.

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

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