Lawmakers Upset How They Learned Army Brass Were Present at Accident

Israel’s army, press and parliament are embroiled in a controversy over blame for a fatal army training exercise and the manner in which the news media reported it.

Knesset members charged they had learned only from the report of an army inquiry board that the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak, were present during the ill- fated exercise three weeks ago.

And on Sunday, the military censor allowed for the first time the publication of the name of another high-ranking officer present during the Nov. 5 exercise at the Tze’elim training grounds in the Negev. The accidental firing of a missile during the exercise left five members of an elite unit dead and six more wounded.

The officer is Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, chief of military intelligence, whose name had been blue-penciled from previous media reports by the chief military censor, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Shani, on grounds of safeguarding national security.

Saguy’s name was not among those singled out for responsibility by the army inquiry board. The board named only Maj. Gen. Amiram Levin, in overall charge of the drill, and a major and captain directly responsible for implementation of the exercise.

Since then, Gens. Saguy and Levin have reportedly been engaging in attacks against each other through statements by their supporters to the press.

At the same time, Knesset member Yossi Sarid, whose Meretz bloc is a member of the ruling coalition, has charged that the army withheld material from the inquiry board.

The charges were made in the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who holds the defense portfolio, appeared Sunday to urge a lowering of temperatures in discussion of the issue.

Rabin declined to withdraw his description of the criticism leveled by the committee at the army and at military censorship as “hysterical.”

In other statements, the prime minister called on Knesset members and the media to end the “circus” that has developed around the Tze’elim disaster.

He said justice should be allowed to quietly take its course by means of military inquiry.

Saguy’s name was first published by Israeli papers in quoting a report taken from the London Guardian. Citation of a report in the foreign press is generally not subject to censorship. Following its appearance, the censor lifted the official ban on publishing the general’s name.

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