The investigative unit of the army’s Military Police on Wednesday arrested three soldiers and a civilian on suspicion of spreading military information and false information, by way of the free mobile messaging service WhatsApp.
The soldiers, who come from the Medical Corps, the Human Resources Directorate, and the Military Rabbinate, are accused of sending information about the identities of soldiers killed in action before the names had been made public. The messages that made their way around Israel included photos of the coffins of soldiers being prepared.
In a number of cases, relatives who received the messages learned of their loved ones’ deaths before they had received an official notification from the IDF. In other cases, false information reporting that soldiers had been killed had made it to their relatives. Those relatives spent hours thinking that tragedy had befallen them before the mistake could be clarified by the IDF.
“Notifying a family of a soldier or an officer who was killed in action is one of the most sensitive and well-planned procedures that exist in the military, as befits such a serious moment,” the military said.
The IDF said that the arrests followed an investigation that it described has having employed “both open-source and undercover means.”
“The unauthorized WhatsApp messages were irresponsible and spread quickly across social networks,” it said.
The issue of information passing via WhatsApp has been a serious one as of late for the army. A commercial played in recent weeks on Army Radio has instructed soldiers not to talk about operational information on the application for fear it could fall into the wrong hands.
Rumors on WhatsApp were also very common during the 18 days that Israel was searching for the three teens kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank last month. On the first day of the search, a false message made its way around the country quoting the IDF as saying that a joint military, police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operation had rescued the three boys. The IDF denied that text as they did a later one that said the teens’ bodies had been found, days before their remains were actually located.
The matter has also been a concern for police. Crime scene photos taken by police and paramedics at murder scenes have circulated on the application, circumventing gag orders on the images.
Reuters contributed to this report.