Two Israeli army officers and five soldiers are facing disciplinary action for their behavior during a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli post in the southern Lebanon security zone Saturday.
An Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Almog Klein, was killed when a mortar shell fell next to the position where he was standing guard. Two other Israeli soldiers were wounded.
An investigation into the affair concluded that most of the soldiers staffed their posts according to standing orders, but that they did not respond aggressively enough against the Hezbollah attackers, who almost overran the Israeli position.
Two of the soldiers involved in the incident are already serving time in a military stockade, according to an army spokesman.
A commission of inquiry sentenced them to 25 and 28 days in prison.
Hezbollah has sporadically launched attacks on Israeli positions in southern Lebanon. But it has stepped up its attacks on the security zone since President Clinton’s visit to Israel last week. By the middle of this week, Hezbollah had launched attacks there seven days in a row.
Saturday’s incident has sparked debate within Israel about the willingness of Israeli soldiers to fight, and perhaps lay down their lives, at a time when Israel is attempting to structure land-for-peace deals with its Arab neighbors.
The inquiry into the incident 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.
All the officers and soldiers serving at the outpost at the time of the attack are being withdrawn from the Lebanese front. But they are being replaced by other soldiers belonging to the same 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,” Rabin said 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.”
Army spokesmen said the two already in prison were not members of the Givati Brigade, which was in overall command of the post.
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 counterattacking 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.
Behavior under fire is the supreme test of soldiers and their officers, said Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, the commander of the northern sector. During Saturday’ attack, a number of officers and soldiers had undermined the battle code that the IDF has developed and maintained at a high price throughout the years, he added.