Who Believes the Army?

The IDF formally and officially ruled that there is no necessary contradiction between officerhood and criminal convictions. In a people's army, it is important to represent all sectors of the population, law-abiders and law-breakers both.

One evening this week the IDF Spokesman's Office called with the good - and rare - news: The answer had come to the question posed in February. Which question? Which February, 2004 or 1999? It doesn't matter, since the point is that finally, there's an answer. The commanders' committee deliberating on the matter of reserve officer Captain Ofer Nimrodi, who was twice convicted in criminal court, recommended letting him retain his officer's rank. Manpower Division Commander Elazar Stern and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon ratified the recommendation.

Indeed, a ray of light in the darkness, justice has been done and the little precedent will no doubt serve for bigger cases. The rule of military jurisdiction that gives the Israel Defense Forces the authority to strip officers and career non-commissioned officers of their ranks if their actions stained the army, including in cases in civilian life, is now being selectively applied. There's one law for ordinary people, and another for cronies, patrons and owners of large bank accounts and newspapers.

After five years of a war of attrition that included surrenders to Nimrodi's lawyers' demands to depose a colonel who chaired the committee, the IDF formally and officially ruled that there is no necessary contradiction between officerhood and criminal convictions. The precedent will certainly help two more senior criminals - Col. Yaakov Nimrodi and Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai. And why not? The IDF is a people's army and it is important that all the sectors of the population be represented, law-abiders and law-breakers both.

The values embodied in the reported decision by Ya'alon and Stern are problematic in and of themselves, but very quickly it turned out that once again, as has become routine lately, it was not the entire story and that one should not accept the IDF's version at face value. Officers familiar with the proceedings in the commanders' committee were amazed to hear how the recommendation was actually distorted and parts of it that were not convenient for Nimrodi, Stern and Ya'alon were dropped. According to those officers, the recommendation was based, among other things, on the paucity of reserve service performed by Captain Nimrodi over the last 20 years and it conditioned his retention of his rank on his being thrown out of the reserves.

When confronted by those facts, the general staff, after several days of deliberation, came up with a new and improved version: the Stern and Ya'alon decision did indeed include "exemption" for Nimrodi from reserves, based on the committee's decision and his age, but that part of the decision was not included in the IDF Spokesman's Office statement, for privacy reasons. With all due respect to the army, which preserves - when it wants - the privacy of individuals as it if were acting according to the Child Protection Law, only a gullible fool takes the IDF Spokesman's Office statements at face value; whatever the office produces should be regarded as a first draft. For that purpose, it does not matter whether the Spokesman's Office was responsible for the distortion or was a victim of its own commanders, as happened in a series of air attacks last year, or alternatively, the Spokesman's Office, out of blind allegiance to other military elements, just follows orders without asking questions.

The important thing is that the IDF's credibility is close to zero. It's always worth treating a military institution, like any other institution, with a combination of respect and suspicion, but during the Ya'alon-Stern era in the IDF, there has been a worrying decline in respect and a grave rise in suspicion.

That is dangerous in an organization that claims to conduct inquiries without compromise, to get to the root of the operational and professional truth for the sake of knowing how to prepare for the next time around. An army of half-truths, run in an atmosphere of winks, nudges and cover-ups, betrays the trust of the citizenry on whose behalf it operates.

It was strange this past weekend to hear Ya'alon's chortling about the interim report on the killing of the Palestinian girl at the Girit position in Gaza. The chief of staff was under the impression - "for now" and until proved otherwise - that the company commander was innocent of what his soldiers accused him: confirming the kill of the girl. But if the company commander was telling the truth, that means his soldiers, combat fighters from an elite Givati unit, lied about their commander. Happy is the army whose soldiers, rather than, heaven forbid, its officers, are caught in a lie - and if the officers are convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, it's not so terrible. Ya'alon and Stern will know what to do and how to hide the whole truth, for now.