A Haaretz exposé last week revealed a highly disturbing series of events related to a single Golani Brigade commando team that acted like a renegade militia. At the same time, the reporting reveals a thriving culture of lying and cover-up in the Israeli army.
An attempt by Haaretz reporter Yaniv Kubovich to investigate an accident about two years ago on Route 6 in which three soldiers from the commando team, under the command of 1st Lt. Guy Eliahu, were killed led three months ago to the exposure of a web of lies, coordination of witness testimony, document forgery and cover-up.
Now it turns out that this was the tip of the iceberg. In the period since, soldiers from “Team Eliahu” were involved in a so-called price tag “revenge” attack against Palestinians in the West Bank city of Nablus. It occurred as part of a desire to overcome the heavy mood that prevailed among the soldiers following the traffic accident, and not succumb to despair.
Two days after the tragedy, it was decided that the team would return to its regular activity. It was sent to carry out nighttime arrests in the Nablus area, but to boost their morale, the soldiers on the team vandalized motor vehicles in the Nablus refugee camp, as part of their desire to take revenge on Palestinians – because the driver of a truck involved in the accident on Route 6 was an East Jerusalem Arab.
The army made do with an internal investigation that resulted in a decision not to refer the matter to the Military Advocate General’s Office, or to punish Eliahu, who was even subsequently promoted. But this disturbing series of events didn’t stop there.
Team Eliahu continued to do whatever it felt like.
More than a year ago, this undisciplined commander and his team, who felt no obligation to follow operational rules, made an unplanned and unauthorized foray into Syrian territory, to a structure where there were Syrians present who were not a threat to Israel.
The soldiers demanded that the occupants of the building go outside. Exchanges of fire immediately ensued, leading to the Syrians’ deaths, to rising tension in the area and to the dispatch of a tank force — creating an unnecessary risk to life as well as a risk of abduction and regional conflagration. In this case too, rather than launching an investigation and meting out punishment, the incident was hushed up and the team resumed routine duties.
The effort to hush up the deeds of Team Eliahu again demonstrates that the Israeli army’s culture when it comes to the investigation of shortcomings is deeply tainted by negligence, the real aim of which is to cover up rather than to address the failings.
Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi must put an end to this sick culture. He has a duty to open a thorough investigation into the events themselves as well as the conduct of the entire chain of command in the reconnaissance battalion – to which the commando company belongs – which turned a blind eye in these disturbing cases.
Header: The 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade during a drill held in the Golan Heights, northern Israel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.