IDF to ask court to respect reprimand of commander of suicidal soldier

Appeal comes after district court blocked disciplining the commander

A gavel in a court of law (photo credit: REUTERS)
A gavel in a court of law
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF and the state prosecution will appeal a civil court’s ruling against a military court’s reprimand of a commanding officer found guilty of a dereliction of duty in the case of a suicidal soldier.
In January 2019, Givati soldier Cpl. Niv Lubaton committed suicide and 16 months later, after a thorough military investigation, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi relieved his commanding officer, Maj. G, of his duties. He also censured four others for their role in the suicide of Lubaton, who was being recruited by the Military Police as an informant.
In January, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Orna Levi took the highly unusual measure of overruling Kochavi’s reprimand. Though there is a provision for civilian courts to overrule IDF decisions, it is rarely exercised.
While Judge Levi viewed Maj. G as the IDF’s scapegoat to satisfy public indignation, Kochavi and the IDF General Staff viewed her ruling as a dangerous attack on military discipline, by informing mid-level officers that they can seek redress in civilian courts against military courts’ or disciplinary hearings’ determination of guilt.
A full investigation ordered by Kochavi also led to the indictment of two former IDF military police officers in September 2019 for failing to properly report Lubaton’s mental health, non-compliance and inappropriate conduct.
“This is an unbelievably painful and sad incident and we must do everything to prevent such an event from recurring,” Kochavi said last May. “Intelligence gathering, interrogations and the like must be carried out with sensitivity and concern for the soldier. The Military Police Investigatory Unit must learn lessons and implement them immediately.”
Following the investigation into Lubaton’s death, Maj. G., the commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s Beersheba station, was removed from the unit. He was barred from serving in command positions and would not be permitted to seek promotion for six years after a disciplinary hearing determined his command responsibility for the soldier’s death.
Four other officers, the commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s southern division and Lubaton’s three direct commanders in his squad leaders’ course received official reprimands for their failures in conducting the search for him after he went missing.
The IDF said that Kochavi ordered changes to methods of recruiting informants to the Military Police Investigatory Unit and to procedures for search operations for soldiers who go missing from the unit.
According to the IDF, suicide was the leading cause of military fatalities in 2019, with 12 soldiers, including two lone soldiers, taking their own lives.
Despite those numbers, there is a general downward trend in IDF suicides. This has been credited to more restricted access to weapons and the IDF’s greater sensitivity to the problem.
 The army launched numerous programs from 2006 designed to better train commanders to identify soldiers who may have suicidal tendencies. It also streamlined army procedures to ensure all relevant information is received by mental health officers as soldiers move between units.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.