Analysis: Gantz won’t tolerate ethical errors in IDF

Operation mistakes will be forgiven but ethical flaws, moral breakdowns and a violation of IDF code, will not.

IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
IDF officer hitting activist with M-16 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Last summer, the IDF top brass convened for a daylong conference in an air force base in central Israel. The day was supposed to be about the IDF’s multi-year procurement plan that was in the final stages of approval and to brief the officers on intelligence assessments for the coming year.
The meeting, however, was scheduled just a couple of weeks after “Nakba Day” in May when about 100 Syrians breached the border fence and crossed into Israel. Gantz decided that the commander of the IDF division in charge of the border, Brig.-Gen. Tamir Hyman, would present the findings from his investigation into the failure to stop the crossing to the group. Afterwards, Gantz even complimented Hyman for conducting such a thorough investigation.
IDF officers recalled this story on Wednesday following Gantz’s decision to dismiss Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner from his post as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade after he was caught on tape slamming an M-16 rifle in the face of a Danish pro-Palestinian protester in the West Bank.
But one could be excused for asking what the difference was between what Eisner did and Hyman’s failure to stop 100 Syrians from violating Israel’s sovereignty.
The answer is what Gantz has tried to make clear since his first day as chief of staff some 15 months ago: Operational mistakes will be forgiven as long as the necessary lessons are learned. Ethical flaws, moral breakdowns and a violation of the IDF code though, will not be tolerated at all.
This distinction was demonstrated two months ago when Gantz dismissed another senior officer for falsifying a report. That was the case of Lt.-Col. Muli Cohen, commander of Battalion 74, who accidentally left a soldier behind following an operation in a Palestinian village in the West Bank.
Senior officers later explained that had Cohen taken responsibility, told the truth about the mistake and proven that he had learned the necessary lessons, he likely would have remained in his post. Instead though, after he tried to cover it up, Gantz decided to fire him.
This is the basic message that Gantz was trying to transmit throughout the IDF ranks on Wednesday with his decision to dismiss Eisner: Ethical mistakes will not be tolerated.
In recent years, the military has invested in mentally preparing soldiers and officers for deployments in the West Bank where they face not only routine counter-terror operations but also daily friction with a hostile population and foreign activists.
While the IDF stressed this week that Eisner’s actions were part of an isolated incident, it would do well to study the video of him slamming an M-16 in the Danish activist’s face and try to understand what brought a senior officer to lose control the way Eisner did.