Navy officers involved in a series of failures that led to the deaths of four sailors during a Hizbullah missile strike on the INS Hanit during the summer's war in Lebanon were let off the hook Monday after Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz decided to reprimand them but allow them to remain in military service. Halutz accepted recommendations by an inquiry commission appointed by Navy Adm. David Ben-Bashat not to expel any of the officers, including the electronics officer aboard the ship who deactivated an antimissile defense system.
The second Lebanon war: JPost.com special report
Panel: 'Hanit' attack was preventable
The head of Naval Intelligence, who holds the rank of colonel and served in the past as head of the Navy Commandos, and the commander of the Navy's Sa'ar 5-class fleet of warships were both reprimanded for the incident. The commander of the Hanit was also reprimanded and will not be able to hold a combat post in his next assignment.
The electronics officer who deactivated the Barak antimissile defense system was removed from his post and will no longer be allowed to serve on naval ships. The Barak system was said to be capable of intercepting and destroying the missile.
In November, a committee led by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nir Maor presented findings from its investigation into the July 14 missile attack against the Hanit as it patrolled off the coast of Beirut. Four sailors were killed in the attack when an Iranian C-802 radar-guided missile struck the Sa'ar 5-class missile ship. The C-802 missile was made in China but underwent upgrades in Iran from where it was then delivered to Hizbullah.
Senior naval officers admitted at the time that they were taken by surprise, claiming that they did not know Hizbullah possessed such advanced capabilities and that a low-ranking electronics officer had, as a result, deactivated the Barak missile defense system on the ship which was capable of intercepting and destroying the missile.
The Hanit is Israel's most advanced missile ship and boasts an array of Harpoon and Barak anti-missile missiles, along with a system for electronically jamming incoming missiles and other threats.
The IDF's report on the incident reads: "As far as the intelligence picture is concerned, it was found that despite the lack of pinpoint information about the weapon in the hands of Hizbullah, there was information in the Navy in the past that could have led to some type of an assessment that the enemy possesses shore-to-ship missiles."
Ben-Bashat said at the time that instruments on two other ships patrolling the waters off Beirut had identified the incoming missile but had determined that the object was Israeli Air Force jets returning from sorties over Lebanon.
Therefore, he concluded, the missile strike could not have been prevented, even if all the Hanit's instruments had been functioning at the time.
Two senior Navy officers were questioned under warning recently for speaking with a journalist without permission from the IDF Spokesperson's Office.
One officer, a colonel, stood trial and underwent a polygraph test after his phone records showed that he had spoken with a journalist without permission regarding the investigation into the missile strike on the Hanit during the war in Lebanon.
The second officer, a lieutenant colonel, was suspended from his post for 30 days. Military sources slammed the policies of IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev, as well as Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, for deciding to investigate the officers.