Reservist Officers Send Protest Letter Over Indictment in Training Death

Twenty senior reserve officers sent a sharp letter to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi last month to protest the military advocate general's decision to indict a battalion commander over the death of a reservist when an armored vehicle flipped.

Sgt. Maj. Assaf Waxman was killed in November 2007 as he was driving an armored vehicle during a reserves training maneuver in the Golan Heights, even though he had not driven such a vehicle in nine years, and had undergone only a brief "refresher" before being sent on the mission.

In response, intelligence battalion commander Lt. Col. (res.) A., a division commander with the rank of colonel, a company commander and the commander of the armored vehicle were indicted for causing death through negligence.

A military committee of investigation had recommended taking only disciplinary measures against those involved, including dismissing the company commander.

However, Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avihai Mandelblit decided to press criminal charges against them.

The decision has given rise considerable controversy within the Israel Defense Forces, drawing criticism from officers at the General Staff, headed by GOC Northern Command Gadi Eisenkot, to whom the intelligence battalion is subordinate.

In their letter, the officers, all of whom serve in active service positions, say that not only is the indictment excessive, but that trying the company commander damages the motivation of colonels and lieutenant colonels in the reserves who are still commanding brigades and battalions.

Deliberations over the company commander's trial were held last week at the special military court.

The commander's lawyer, military defense attorney Udi Ben-Eliezer, appealed to Mandelblit, asking him to retract the indictment on the grounds that the details that have come up thus far in the court indicate the prosecution does not have a case against the battalion commander. Mandelblit rejected the request.

Reflection of attitudes

The reserve battalion commanders' appeal is unlikely to have practical implications for the trial, but it does reflect the attitude of reserve commanders. The concern expressed in their letter has also come up in conversations with senior reserves officers.

The officers wrote that the decision "not to stop at the sentry" in enforcing the law against those responsible for the accident is legitimate, but "there aren't always guilty parties" in every accident. "Cold-shouldering commanders during hard tests is a serious failure of command and values. Commanders like A., who aim to achieve maximum operational readiness by sticking to the goal, deserve the backing of the senior command at moments of crisis and distress. This is even more so when the case shows there was no criminal negligence."

In response to Haaretz, the IDF spokesman replied, "The Chief of Staff's Bureau recently received was addressed regarding the advocate general's decision to file the indictment. The decision was made in accordance with the advocate general's legal authority, after a thorough study by the investigative committee and after the claims of those involved were heard during a hearing."