The killing on Wednesday morning of the deputy commander of the IDF Nahal Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion is the latest example of the cost of the Israeli military’s purity-of-arms code. An upstanding officer by all accounts, Maj. Bar Falah lost his life as a result of top brass adherence to “The Spirit of the Israel Defense Forces,” the IDF’s official doctrine of ethics.
The discussion of the danger posed to Israeli soldiers forced to confront enemies with no scruples is not a new one in the Jewish state. Debates about it have been conducted for decades.
But the issue catapulted to international headlines last week when the administration in Washington admonished Israel to rethink its rules of engagement. Of course, President Joe Biden and his team weren’t suggesting that the security of the country with which they claim to have an “unbreakable bond” would be better served by shedding some of its military ethics in favor of self-preservation.
Israel and the death of Shireen Abu Akleh
No, the White House and State Department had the opposite idea: that Israel should increase its combat morality. This chutzpah would beggar belief if it hadn’t emerged in the wake of the IDF’s conclusion earlier this month of a probe into the May 11 death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin.
Abu Akleh, a Christian Arab-American resident of east Jerusalem, was struck down while she was covering a clash between Israeli security forces and Palestinian gunmen in what has become a hotbed of Palestinian terrorism. Rather than bemoan the tragedy of a member of the press being caught in a deadly crossfire, the Palestinian Authority and its supporters in the international media promptly accused the IDF soldiers on the scene of cold-blooded murder.
Even PA President Mahmoud Abbas knew this was a lie, regardless of whether the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was from an IDF weapon or one used by a Palestinian terrorist. It was clear to all concerned, other than those whose hatred of Israel outweighs all integrity, that no Israeli soldier would – or did – take aim at a person with the word “PRESS” clearly marked on his or her flak jacket.
Moreover, Abbas was so concerned about the direction of the fire that he refused Israel’s repeated pleas to conduct a joint ballistics examination of the bullet. As usual, he preferred to take the opportunity to deflect from his responsibility for inciting and funding terrorism by demonizing Israel.
His ploy was successful. Though Israel tried to honor the Abu Akleh family’s wishes that Shireen’s funeral be a somber event – by preventing hysterical Palestinian “mourners” from grabbing her coffin as it was being transferred from the hospital to a hearse – it ended up being blamed for the very chaos created by the mainly Islamic mob.
Apparently enjoying the attention and status as victims of Israeli wrongdoing, the family, which had coordinated with the Israel Police ahead of Abu Akleh’s burial, rejected this version of events. They, too, began to call for an investigation to prove IDF malfeasance.
It was thus unsatisfactory to them and all of Israel’s detractors when the IDF issued a statement on September 5 pointing to “a high possibility” that Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF fire [aimed at] suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen, during an exchange of fire in which life-risking, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired at IDF soldiers… Another possibility remains that [she] was hit by bullets fired by Palestinian militants.”
PRESSURE ON Israel from Biden administration officials about a need for “accountability” was undoubtedly behind the release of such a pointless mea culpa. Nor did it fend off further arm-twisting from Washington. On the contrary, it opened the door for another dose.
“We are going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review [their] policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future.”Vedant Patel
“We are going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review [their] policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on September 6.
Desperate to cling to the illusion that an Israeli government led by a local incarnation of the Democratic party would be safe from the wrath of its American counterpart, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz were taken aback.
“No one will dictate our live-fire instructions to us when we are fighting for our lives.”Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid
“No one will dictate our live-fire instructions to us when we are fighting for our lives,” Lapid said the following day.
Asserted Gantz: “The IDF chief of staff, and he alone, determines and will continue to determine the rules of engagement in accordance with our operational needs and values [that] are implemented in a strict manner by soldiers and their commanders. There has not been, and will not be, any political involvement in the matter. IDF troops have my full backing in their mission to protect the citizens of Israel.”
The death of Maj. Bar Falah and the IDF code of ethics
WHICH BRINGS us back to 30-year-old Maj. Falah. The military has launched a probe into the details of his death, but from testimony thus far, the tragedy occurred late on Tuesday night, when the IDF field observer watching the Jalameh crossing near Jenin identified two Palestinian men nearing the security fence and lying down next to it.
Notified of their presence, members of the IDF Search and Rescue Brigade shouted out to the suspects and fired a stun grenade, apparently causing them to flee. At this point, the commander of the Menashe Brigade was dispatched to the scene, along with Falah and his troops.
Here is where there is a discrepancy in reports. Yet, all illustrate hesitancy on the part of the IDF to shoot-to-kill, for fear that perhaps the targets in question weren’t bloodthirsty terrorists. According to one version, after Falah arrived, the suspects reappeared and soldiers fired warning shots in the air.
When this had no effect, the soldiers repeated the warning, again to no avail. They then requested permission to open fire, but due to a lack of 100% certainty that the Palestinians were carrying weapons, the request was denied.
So, too, was the request to drive up to the suspects in an armored jeep. Though this would have enabled the soldiers to carry out the proper arrest procedure from a secure position, they were directed to approach the suspects on foot.
Falah led the troops to the fence. When they were a few yards away, the suspects began firing. Falah managed to shoot and kill both of them before collapsing from his own wounds.
It turned out that the terrorists – one of whom happened to be an intelligence officer in the PA security services – had been packing a makeshift Carlo submachine gun and semiautomatic weapon. Too bad this had to be discovered in retrospect. After all, their pernicious intentions were evident the minute they ignored the soldiers’ warnings.
WITHOUT SKIPPING a beat, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told reporters in a phone briefing on Wednesday that “the security conditions on the West Bank do concern us greatly, but they also concern Israel and they also concern the Palestinian Authority.”
Never mind that the PA is at fault for those conditions, which make a mockery of the rules of Israeli engagement that place heroes like Falah in extra peril.
“Our part in this is to ensure that, to the greatest degree possible, security cooperation is robust and continuing,” she said, adding incomprehensibly, “but those other things are done around and outside that security cooperation that sustains it.”
She went on to spew the same old platitude, proven time and again to be totally false, about how improving “economic conditions” in the West Bank and Gaza “can help and sustain improvement in security conditions.”
Not a word about PA and Hamas terrorism. Perhaps Lapid and Gantz didn’t mind so much, since they tend to agree with her overall assessment.
They also must be patting themselves on the back for responding so forcefully about the IDF doctrine that Foggy Bottom slightly eased up on its criticism. Ironically, it did so before Falah was killed, through US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“Israel is a sovereign country and will make their own decisions,” Nides said on Monday at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York.
“No one knows the IDF’s processes and procedures better than the IDF,” Price told the press during his daily briefing on Tuesday. “And so, it is not on us or any other country or entity to say precisely what the IDF or any military or security organization around the world should do.”
On the other hand, he stressed, “It is incumbent on us to continue to underscore the importance that we place on mitigating civilian harm and taking steps, including revised policies and procedures, that would mitigate the possibility of civilian harm.”
Falah is but a single casualty of Israel’s gargantuan efforts over the years to avoid hurting civilians, including those used by terrorists as human shields. May he rest in peace, while the IDF remembers that it’s at war.