“Grave… moral and command failure.”

An Israeli lieutenant in the famed Golani Brigade Reconnaissance Battalion has had his promotion blocked by the commander of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command. This lieutenant was the subject of a scathing exposé last month by the Israeli news service Haaretz that portrayed him as a “loose cannon” that had a penchant for violating orders and doing things his own way while his superiors covered up for him. 

Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, the head of the Northern Command, ordered an investigation into the actions of Lt. Guy Eliyahu, a team leader in the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, following the Haaretz articles. The results of the investigation were released on Monday.

Along with the lieutenant’s blocked promotion, the IDF still claimed that the lieutenant made “a number of mistakes along the way” and that his battalion commander, LTC Shimon Siso, should not have allowed LT Eliyahu to prepare for promotion at the military’s Tactical Command College. However, the report denied several of the key parts of the exposé including:

  • That Eliyahu conducted an unauthorized cross-border raid into Syria last January
  • Senior Officers in the Golani Brigade attempted to cover up Eliyahu’s illegal actions

According to Haaretz’s article, Eliyahu’s unit got into a firefight inside of Syria in the predawn hours of January 24, 2019. Citing an unidentified source, the article claimed that the IDF soldiers were conducting a patrol along the Syrian frontier when “they decided that they wanted to go to a house on the other side of the border.” 

Eliyahu then, reportedly, entered Syrian territory without seeking or receiving approval from higher headquarters: this is illegal in the IDF. The source did not specify why the lieutenant and his unit decided to cross the border and what the exact purpose of the supposed maneuver was. 

After entering the Syrian border town of Jubata al-Khashab, Eliyahu then reportedly knocked on the door of a house and called out in Arabic for those inside to open the door. The people inside the house were not terrorists but civilians, according to the Haaretz report. Fearing that the men knocking on the door were Iranian proxy militia members, the civilians opened fire in a case of mistaken identity.

At that point, Eliyahu’s troops returned fire. Later, Syrian media reported that one civilian was killed and five more wounded in the exchange. It was only then, according to the exposé, that Eliyahu’s men rushed back into Israeli territory. Once they were back in Israeli territory, Eliyahu reported to his commanders what had happened. The news report claimed that two or three Syrians were killed. No Israeli troops were wounded in the exchange.

While the IDF confirmed that a firefight in Syria did occur, they denied Haaretz’s key points which were the specific order of events as well as the involvement of senior officers in the decision to cross the border. An IDF statement said that only after being fired at, did the troops cross into Syria. Additionally, that Eliyahu did not command the operation, but, rather, the company’s commander did.

“During their operations, IDF soldiers saw shots being fired at them and responded with gunfire to remove the threat. Contrary to what was claimed, the troops did not cross the border into Syria on their own initiative and did not go to the house in violation of orders,” the statement read.

“The crossing of the United Nations-marked border was done after the troops were fired upon and upon receiving permission from qualified officials in real-time,” the IDF added in its statement.

“We’d like to stress that the troops reported on the exchange at the time and requested assistance, so the claim that the event was reported after the fact, and only after they returned to Israeli territory, is bizarre and incorrect,” the IDF said. “The attempt to portray this as a cover-up or concealment during the operation or afterward and to claim that a number of senior IDF officers participated in the cover-up is a lie and false on every level.”

However, during the investigation, the IDF uncovered several gaffes committed by the lieutenant. Those included: 

  • Having his soldiers stop their vehicles in an unsafe way along the highway. (Shortly after this incident, several soldiers in the unit were killed in a car accident while conducting a similar maneuver.)
  • Allowing his soldiers to slash the tires of Palestinians’ cars in Nablus shortly after the aforementioned deadly car crash. This was indiscriminate revenge against civilians. 
  • Falsifying a document that he presented to a military court.

The investigation also found several cases of officers failing to properly inform their successors, superiors, and colleagues of Eliyahu’s history “which led to his promotion in the IDF.” Yet, this was not found to be orchestrated. 

“In light of the collection of incidents related to the officer and the moral failings that occurred under his command, the officer will not be promoted to the position of company commander in the IDF,” the military said.

The IDF also decided to censure Eliyahu’s battalion commander, LTC Siso, for failing to report the tire slashing incident to the brigade commander. LTC Siso stated that he investigated the incident and found that Eliyahu had both failed to intervene at the time and failed to inform his commanders about it after the fact. However, LTC Siso decided not to take serious disciplinary action in light of the recent deaths of soldiers in the unit.

General Baram, while acknowledging that this was a difficult situation for the Golani Brigade, found that Siso’s decision and the junior officer’s actions nevertheless represented a “grave… moral and command failure.”

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