Two Israeli army officers and five soldiers will face disciplinary hearings for their behavior during a Hezbollah attack in the southern Lebanon security zone Saturday, in which an Israeli soldier was killed.
The decision to put the soldiers on trial follows an investigation into the affair.
The inquiry concluded that most of the soldiers did man their posts according to standing orders, but that they did not respond aggressively enough against the Hezbollah attackers, who almost overran the Israeli position.
Staff sgt. Almog Klein was killed during the attack, when a mortar shell fell next to the position where he was standing guard. Two other Israeli soldiers were wounded during the attack.
Hezbollah has sporadically launched attacks on Israeli positions in southern Lebanon. But it has stepped up its attacks on the security zone ever since president Clinton visited Israel last week. By the middle of this week, Hezbollah had launched attacks there for seven straight days.
The inquiry also found that some soldiers holding a crucial position abandoned their post, enabling a group of Hezbollah guerrillas to advance undetected to a forward position, where they planted a Palestinian flag and then pulled back without suffering any casualties.
As a result, the officer commanding the outpost at the time, along with another office and five soldiers, will face disciplinary hearings.
All the officers and soldiers at the outpost will be immediately withdrawn from the Lebanese front. But they will be replaced by other soldiers belonging to the prestigious Givati infantry brigade, which will continue operating in the security zone.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who also serves as defense minister, was sharply critical of the actions of some members of the Israeli unit during the attack, which has become an embarrassment for the Israel Defense Force.
“An attack on an Israeli army fortification which does not end in a strong blow against the attackers represents failure,” he told reporters Tuesday.
But at the same time, Rabin was generally supportive of the Givati brigade.
“I have all the confidence in the capabilities of the commanders and soldiers of Givati,” he told Israel Radio. “They have proven themselves in hundreds of missions. The fact that one or two here and there did not fulfill what was expected of them, it’s a different story that has to be dealt with.”
Rabin also said that Hezbollah is becoming better equipped, receiving arms from Iran via Syrian territory.
The investigation revealed four major failures: poor command and control by officers at the post’ the abandonment of their position by some of the soldiers; delay in counter-attacking the Hezbollah gunmen when they were sighted; and a general failure to pursue the gunmen and inflict casualties.
Only a tank crew was praised for its response during the attack. The crew opened fire at one group of Hezbollah fighters, causing them to retreat.
The commander of the northern sector, Maj, Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, has ordered that the final results of the investigation be distributed throughout his command.
Behavior under fire is the supreme test of soldiers and their officers, Mordechai said. During Saturday’s attack, a number of officers and soldiers had undermined the battle code that the IDF had developed and maintained at a high price throughout the years, he added.