IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi stressed the importance of safety and the adherence to military protocols on Monday, a day after he dismissed five officers in the Paratroopers Brigade following the drowning death of an IDF soldier during a nighttime training exercise in January.
“Learning and exercises are aimed to fulfill missions in times of war and times of peace, and achieve victory on the battlefield. In the precision in which we perform every task – every task, be it small or large, in routine life or during war – we must consider ensuring the safety and security of our soldiers,” Kochavi said, speaking at a ceremony for the new head of the Israel Defense Forces military colleges.
Kochavi’s speech came hours after he dismissed five officers and officially censured commander of the Paratrooper Brigade Col. Yaki Dolf in the death of 20-year-old Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi from Givat Shmuel, who drowned during a nighttime navigation exercise when he tried to cross the swollen Hilazon Stream on January 7.
The chief of staff dismissed the team leader, who has the rank of lieutenant; his deputy platoon commander, also a lieutenant; his platoon commander, a captain; the commander of his training program, a major; and his battalion commander, a lieutenant-colonel. He also canceled the upcoming appointment of the deputy commander of the 35th Brigade.
“This is an event of the utmost gravity, which led to a tragic result whose roots are in a series of errors and mistakes in preparing for the exercise and the way in which it was carried out, under unprofessional leadership by the entire chain of command and unethical leadership by part of the command,” Kochavi said. “This led to recklessness in the exercise under the gaze of the commanders and without them doing anything to prevent it.
“In the incident in question, the commanders throughout the chain of command did not act in accordance with the extreme vigilance expected of them in planning the exercise and in directing it,” he continued, adding that “the central expression of IDF commanders is the responsibility for the lives of their soldiers.”
YOSEFI WAS part of the Gadsar paratrooper reconnaissance battalion when he was swept away by the stream while participating in a navigation training exercise in the Galilee. His unit had been hiking around the stream, working in pairs to learn how to navigate in the wilderness.
He was found two hours later by rescue services about a hundred meters from where he fell into the water.
The investigation into the tragedy found that the way in which the exercise was prepared deviated from army orders, did not adhere to the characteristics of the training series, was conducted with many errors and was carried out in a manner that “lacked concern for details,” the military said.
The decision to embark on a drill in stormy weather conditions, as well as the physical and mental load, “increased the level of training complexity and risks without taking steps to cope with these conditions,” all of which also contributed to Yosefi’s death.
“The behavior of the chain of command during the event, which did not live up to what is expected of IDF officers, was what created the conditions that led to this tragic consequence,” the military said.
Yosefi “is not to blame for his death in any way,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said Sunday night, explaining that there was not only a “lack of professionalism and familiarity with orders and procedures, [but that] there was a lack of discipline in the chain of command, as well as a lack of professionalism while carrying out the exercise.”
While the exercise had been approved by the entire chain of command in the Paratroopers Brigade, according to a report in Haaretz, there was a “serious argument” between medical personnel, who cited expected flooding, and the company commander, over whether or not to cancel the exercise.
When the soldiers in the exercise began to cross the swollen Hilazon Stream at around 2 a.m., several reported that the current was very strong, including one who said he nearly drowned after he fell in.
“The commanders felt the soldiers were being crybabies,” Haaretz
quoted one soldier as saying, adding that he heard the company commander say, “let them be strong and continue.”
Manelis confirmed that numerous soldiers had informed their commanders that they were unable to cross the stream due to the strong current.
“The decision to continue the exercise despite the many warning signs that arose during the course of the drill led to the commanders’ loss of control regarding the situation of soldiers in the field,” Manelis said.
According to the Haaretz report, the drill was only canceled after a helicopter was ordered to search for Yosefi once the commanders realized he was missing, and there were two other soldiers who had to be evacuated for medical treatment for hypothermia.
The military opened three investigations into the deadly incident, including a commission of inquiry led by the commander of the Etzion Brigade, Col. Oren Simcha. An investigation by the IDF’s Military Police – a standard procedure following the death of soldier during any training exercise – is still ongoing.
Kochavi has also ordered his deputy, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, and commander of the IDF Ground Forces, Maj.-Gen. Kobi Barak, to improve the safety protocols for IDF units in general and Special Forces units in particular. As such, all units will hold a two-day safety training session in the upcoming months.
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