29 May '16..
What happened to our forces?
"Our forces" is what we call IDF soldiers and commanders. And that is precisely what we should call them, because ever since the establishment of the state, our army has been the key force that protects Israel, and there is really nothing quite like it. Ever since 1948 and the founding generation, through all the wars Israel has fought and the struggle to defend our borders, we have relied upon a military comprising soldiers in compulsory service and reservists. The IDF is grandmothers and grandfathers, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. It's us, it's all of us, it's "our forces."
But recently, something happened there, within our forces' upper command echelon. A kind of "group think" effect that yielded a new filter, through which they now view reality. It involves a communal pat on the back and a deep-seated belief that they, and only they, hold the philosopher's stone of truth and justice, and, above all, values. But that is entirely not the case. A sense of proportion and good judgement are sorely lacking there.
About a month ago, the U.S. military published an inquiry into a failed military operation in Afghanistan. In October 2015, a special airplane -- a Hercules gunship that had been customized for anti-terror missions -- attacked a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz. The ground forces were convinced that the hospital was actually a Taliban base. The airstrike was launched and 42 civilians were killed: women, children and the elderly.
Exactly 12 minutes into the strike, Doctors Without Borders contacted the American Special Forces commander to alert him of the mistake, but the airstrike continued for another 30 to 50 minutes, by various accounts, after the call was received.
Following a long investigation, the report was published. The strike does not constitute a war crime, it determined. Not murder, not manslaughter, not negligence. It was an operational mistake: The intended target was another building.
The target was misidentified; the protocol was wrong; there was a malfunction in the plane's control system; there was a communications error. Were 42 civilians killed? Were there urgent appeals in real-time to hold fire? Oh well. It was an accident.
No one in the U.S. military will face court-martial, but 16 people were reprimanded. Some will be dismissed from their posts. Disciplinary action was taken. End of story.
So what, the American military isn't "moral"? Of course it's moral. The "Counterinsurgency Field Manual," the official guide for the Army and the Marines, says: "American military values obligate Soldiers and Marines to accomplish their missions while taking measures to limit the destruction caused during military operations, particularly in terms of collateral harm to noncombatants. ... Combatants are not required to take so much risk that they fail in their mission or forfeit their lives."
And after all that, the matter ended -- with a few people being reprimanded.
And here? The case of Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who shot an incapacitated terrorist in Hebron in March, has become a test case in the eyes of senior officers, a watershed event, a major battle for the values of purity of arms, and what's worse -- an engine of accusations against Israeli society as a whole.
No need to sugarcoat or whitewash
Let's be clear: From the looks of things, and based on video footage and the testimonies of the incident, Azaria is no hero. But he is also not a murderer. He fired his weapon in violation of orders and put our forces, who were standing in the line of fire, at risk, and for that he should certainly face trial and military disciplinary measures. He could have been punished severely. But to publicly parade him to court in handcuffs, and inform him during his interrogation that he is suspected of murder?
Our forces appear to be a little confused. Since the start of the stabbing intifada, a notion -- not an order! -- has taken hold that any terrorist who tries to attack, be it with a knife or an accelerating vehicle, will not survive the attempt. It's not an order, it's an understanding. It is what many politicians have called for, and it is what news commentators are heatedly explaining. It is an expectation that has been formed in the public's mind after being terrorized across the country for months. The terrorists want to commit suicide? Let them. They won't survive.
What makes the Hebron shooting incident different is that everything was caught on film. There was an assessment that a failure by Israel to take harsh steps would lead to a Palestinian outburst. The higher-ups -- the battalion and brigade commanders -- were angry with Azaria for making his own decision to fire rather than following orders. The commanders decided to call in the Military Investigative Police. Everything else developed during the remand hearings, the protests, the demonstrations, and now -- in a court martial.
There is no need to sugarcoat or to whitewash. The Hebron shooting occurred 11 minutes after the terrorist had stabbed Israeli soldiers, wounding two. A company commander and two platoon commanders were already alerted to the scene. Azaria cocked his weapon behind their backs, some seven feet away. How did the sound not alert them? The soldier fired. As seen in the footage, they didn't rush to him. It took them time.
The commanders are responsible for the scene. Not for the shooting by the soldier, who made his own decision to pull the trigger, but for the scene. The army understands that: On Friday morning, 48 hours after the incident, they were disciplined for failure to provide assistance to the wounded Palestinians. Reprimands were recorded in their files. End of story.
No military coup
The wounded terrorist who was shot in Hebron together with his accomplice, who had been shot and killed earlier, was not there for a morning stroll with his Chihuahua. He was there to kill Jewish soldiers -- our forces -- and Azaria shot him. Azaria has his own version of the events, which was not rejected outright during the initial remand hearing, and he will soon present it to a three-judge panel. The trial is only beginning.
In a case like this, after an incident is over, military protocol calls for soldiers not to fire unless ordered to do so. There was no order to fire. Azaria violated military protocol. For that, he should have faced a disciplinary board, as his commanders did. Not for murder, not for manslaughter. Anyone who claims differently should take a look at the history of our wars here. War is hell. Things happen. During the Vietnam War, the Americans had the My Lai massacre; we had Kafr Qasim in 1956. What happened in Hebron is neither of those. It's a matter of putting things into proportion.
But our forces' top commanders refuse to see things in proportion. They were angry, and they climbed onto a very high horse. Now it's hard for them to come down. Meanwhile, the outpouring of public support for Azaria has angered them further; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's phone call to Azaria's father after the incident drove them out of their minds. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon backed them, Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan went even further in his speech on Holocaust Memorial Day, and then came Ya'alon's speech on Independence Day, in which he urged IDF officers to speak their minds against the political echelon. Just look at what one shot can do, when proportion is lacking.
No, we aren't facing the imminent destruction of Israeli society, and we aren't on the road to a military coup. The harsh criticism takes the form of words, and an attempt to take possession of "values."
Regardless of the new defense minister, regardless of politics, regardless of anything but Israel's best interests, the right thing to do now is for our forces to go back to simply being our forces.
Starting in 2007, Amos Regev was among the founders of Israel Hayom and has served as its editor in chief since its first day of publication.
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