Stain on IAF

The fault here lies with the Israel Air Force and the buck stops at the top with its commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin.

On shift at the Hatzor Air Force Base. (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
On shift at the Hatzor Air Force Base.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Last month, a major rainstorm hit Israel. Floods were reported across the country – in Nahariya, Ashdod and Tel Aviv.
One flood, though, was maliciously hidden from the public and people need to be held accountable. This was the flooding at the Hatzor Air Force Base that saw about 2 meters of water accumulate in aircraft hangers, causing damage to eight F-16s. Five of the planes sustained minor damage and three sustained significant damage. All in all, the damages are estimated to reach NIS 30 million.
The money is not the issue, though, and neither is the neglect that led the officers to keep the aircraft in the hangers even though they had warnings a major rainstorm was on its way.
The issue at hand is the apparent attempted cover-up and the way the Air Force misused the Military Censor to help keep the bad news from coming out in the media.
The flood took place in the beginning of January – but it wasn’t until almost five days later that the Censor let the story be told.
The Military Censor in this case is not at fault, although it should consider how much it can trust the military the next time a senior officer calls and demands that something be banned from publication. The story of a few planes that have been damaged does not carry with it national security ramifications but it does look embarrassing for the air force and its commanders.
The fault here lies with the Israel Air Force and the buck stops at the top with its commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin.
Norkin is a decorated pilot who has served the country with distinction but what has happened at Hatzor is not just an attempt at a cover up but also an attempt by the top IAF brass to avoid accountability.
On Tuesday, the IDF announced that the commander of Hatzor would be relieved of his command due to the flooding. In addition, the head of the squadron to which the eight damaged planes belonged to was reprimanded, and the head of the maintenance squadron and the commander of the flight squadron were also reprimanded.
Reprimands are one thing and being relieved prematurely of command of a base should be another. But that is not the case here.
Instead, the commander of Hatzor will soon fly off to Paris where he will serve as Israel’s military attaché. In other words, his punishment is leave Hatzor and go represent Israel in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Makes sense.
The management of this situation is a stain on the air force, on Norkin and on the entire IDF. Cover-ups cannot be tolerated. If this is what happens when planes are damaged, what will happen when there is a war and soldiers are injured or killed? Can commanders be believed? Are they telling the truth? Or will they again use the Military Censor or other methods to prevent a story from being told?
We urge Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to intervene. The air force’s post-operation system of inquiries is world renowned. Pilots are known for studying to great detail what they do, how they do it and are taught to never shy away from criticism.
IAF officers often brag about the fact that veteran pilots can be criticized by junior pilots after joint operations and everything is taken the way it should be – as part of an effort to improve so the country can stay safe and so the Air Force can be prepared for whatever threat might loom on the horizon.
What has happened until now at Hatzor is not enough. The base commander’s decision to leave his position is commendable but the public needs answers so it can be sure that cover-ups like this will not happen again when it really matters and when lives are on the line.
Norkin, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Bennett need to speak out and show the public that they believe in transparency, accountability and honesty.
The floodwaters may have receded but the stain on the IAF will not go away.