By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
During late November 2022, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier who was assigned to the Hebron area allegedly assaulted, without justification, a civilian protester who sympathizes with the Arab residents in that area. Another on-duty IDF soldier verbally proclaimed that a certain recently-elected Israeli politician would “restore order” in Hebron. According to news reports, the soldier who made the political comment was promptly sentenced to ten days’ confinement, which was later reduced to six days’ confinement, while unspecified discipline was imposed on the other soldier.
No reasonable person would deny that laws and regulations which govern the conduct of military personnel (at least those from supposedly democratic countries) universally prohibit both assaulting others without legal justification and expressing personal political opinions while on-duty and in uniform. Thus, assuming the truth of the allegations, the two aforementioned IDF soldiers who were assigned to Hebron clearly acted inappropriately.
In response to the allegations against the soldiers, IDF Chief of the General Staff Aviv Kochavi was quoted as saying the alleged misconduct by these two soldiers is “extremely serious and contrary to the values of the IDF and its orders.”
Kochavi was further quoted as saying that:
To summarize, two soldiers allegedly engaged in misconduct which could properly be characterized as moderate to minor, conduct which was promptly and publicly denounced by the military’s Chief of the General Staff. That should have been the end of the story.
The Chief of the General Staff, who holds the rank of “Rav-Aluf” [רב-אלוף], which is commonly translated as “Lieutenant General” (three-star general) is the highest-ranking military officer in the IDF (the IDF does not have a rank equivalent to that of a four-star general).
About a week after publicly denouncing the alleged misconduct of the two IDF soldiers under his command, and apparently not wanting to leave good enough alone, Rav-Aluf [Lieutenant General] Kochavi, while speaking at an event at Ben Gurion University, revisited the Hebron incident, reportedly saying “[t]he IDF has a code of values and it is called the spirit of the IDF, it does not change and remains constant. Only the commanders in the IDF will determine its values, the orders, the handling of events and the handling of people” (emphasis added).
Let us stop and dwell for a moment on exactly what Rav-Aluf [Lieutenant General] Kochavi reportedly said and the context in which he made these comments. “Only the commanders in the IDF will determine its . . . orders.” “Only the commanders in the IDF will determine . . . the handling of events and the handling of people.”
What happened at Ben Gurion University was the highest-ranking military officer in the country, publicly commenting on the actions of two soldiers, both likely low-ranking draftees, one of whom allegedly assaulted a protester who is sympathetic to the hostile Arab population in Hebron, a population who are the sole reason for the deployment of soldiers in that town, and the other who allegedly remarked that a recently-elected politician will “restore order” in Hebron. These two soldiers, apparently, do not think their military commanders are doing a good job in dealing with the hostile Arab population in Hebron.
During his speech at Ben Gurion University, Rav-Aluf [Lieutenant General] Kochavi responded to the two Hebron soldiers’ apparent lack of confidence in their military superiors. “Only [I, Aviv Kochavi, commander of] the commanders in the IDF” and not the democratically-elected political leaders, such as the recently-elected politician whom one soldier apparently believes will restore order in Hebron, “will determine [the IDF’s] orders.”
Although it’s certainly problematic when low-ranking soldiers publicly express a lack of confidence in their military commanders, it’s quite another matter altogether when a country’s highest-ranking military officer publicly proclaims that he, and he alone, “will determine [the military’s] orders.” Such a statement is nothing short of public declaration that the military, and not the country’s elected civilian leaders, are in control of the government. This is nothing short of a coup d’état in the making.
Israel claims to be a “democratic” country. If Israel is a democracy, and if it hopes to remain a democracy, it must ensure that its military leaders fully understand and accept that they are subordinate to the country’s civilian leadership. Furthermore, any military officer who refuses to accept civilian control of the military, especially when such military officer disagrees with the country’s civilian leadership, deserves not just a six-day jail sentence, but rather, should immediately be relieved of his command and permanently stripped of his rank and all military benefits.
IMPORTANT NOTE TO READERS: This article is not, and should not be interpreted as, an indictment of the Holy Land of Israel (חס ושלום); rather, this article merely highlights an aspect of the secular government of the State of Israel that is in dire need of reform. “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government [only] when it deserves it.” Mark Twain.
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