Southern Command to Investigate Its Own Failures From Eilat Terror Attacks

GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo has admitted he was wrong to open section of Route 12 closest to Egyptian border Thursday morning, despite warnings from Shin Bet security service of anticipated terror attack in the area.

Defense sources said yesterday that the Israel Defense Forces will not conduct a high-level investigation into the operational failures connected to the terror attacks north of Eilat last Thursday. The IDF will instead rely on the operational inquiries being carried out by the Southern Command, which are to be submitted to Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz for remarks when completed.

Senior military figures yesterday continued to extend verbal support for GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo. Russo has already admitted he was wrong to open the section of Route 12 closest to the Egyptian border on Thursday morning, despite warnings from the Shin Bet security service of an anticipated terror attack in the area. Eight people were killed by terrorists in the attacks.

Maj. Gen. Tal Russo - Moti Milrod - August 2011
Moti Milrod

"The outcome of the attack was grave but from what can be gathered from the investigations carried out so far, there was nothing beyond lapses of operational judgment," a senior officer said yesterday (the officer did not want to be identified for this story ). "The chief of staff has previously specified that he doesn't fire people for errors of judgment, only for negligence and violations of IDF norms. He will say what he needs to say, but I don't think there will be a need for dismissals," the officer said.

This view was echoed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a television interview on Channel 2. "There was definitely a lapse of judgment in assessing the situation, and that contributed somewhat to the outcome," Barak said.

"The commanding officer of a command must make dozens of judgments of this type every week; he makes them and it's not always perfect," Barak added. "I assume that other things will be found in the investigation."

However, Barak also noted that the "rapid response prevented a much worse terror attack in the field, including the entry [of terrorists] to Eilat and the possibility of abductions." Barak also expressed personal support for Russo and his ability to conduct a proper investigation of the events.

Senior officers in the Southern Command said yesterday that the ongoing operational investigations into Thursday's events have found many positive aspects to the conduct of IDF troops, who prevented the number of casualties being larger than it was and killed eight of the terrorists involved. "Even if a few media outlets singled out [Russo] as the responsible party," one source said, "he continues to do his job."