To his soldiers, the defenders of Israel:
In light of recently expressed criticism regarding criminal investigations and trials of soldiers and commanders (due to incidents which occurred during military operations), I wish to stress my position on the matter.
It is the legal and moral duty of the IDF, as the military of the democratic-Jewish state that prides itself on rule of law, to investigate every claim of misconduct regarding its personnel. This was done with the hundreds of complaints raised regarding the behavior of our soldiers during Operation Cast Lead and the alleged committing of war crimes on their part. As combat ended, I commanded that investigative teams be established to examine every claim and complaint. This was done by our own initiative, for ourselves, as required by the unique ‘Spirit of the IDF’ [the ethical code of the IDF].
In general, the correct course of action would be to resolve the matters within a military context, as is done by the various units when compiling their operational debriefings – which was done in cases where the commanders acted by the book. The Military Attorney General only becomes involved once these operational debriefings are completed, or when the internal process of debriefing is not properly executed.
As someone who knows the soldiers of the IDF, and the values which guide them and their morality, I was not surprised to discover that the vast majority of complaints investigated both by the unit commanders and, in some cases by the Military Attorney General, were found to be groundless. The IDF had ensured, and will continue to insist, that its operations will be carried out by the rules of the State, and in light of the values of human life and the purity of arms – even in the face of an enemy that disregards every law and moral-ethical standard and uses its civilian population as a defensive wall.
With that, we are not exempt from firmly treating the isolated extreme cases where the military commands were not followed and the moral code of the IDF disregarded- this is not only our duty but an interest of the first degree to every soldier and commander of the IDF. If we grant automatic immunity to every action and behavior only because it took place during combat, we will not be meeting our own expectations or keeping to the values which led us through generations of fighting our justified battle.
In three cases (stealing and using a credit card, using a 9-year-old child to open bags with unknown content, and allegations of intentionally firing at a civilian) the Military Attorney General instructed to press charges, due to the severe irregularities found in the soldiers’ behavior.
These single cases do not demonstrate a lack of support for the combat soldiers or the over-use of legal actions taken in the military. It is the opposite – these cases demonstrate the moral strength of the IDF and our ability, unlike the claims of various figures both in Israel and in the world, to uphold the law and maintain our values at all times.
The missions and challenges we face are difficult and complex. Operational success will only be achieved if we fiercely preserve the ‘Spirit of the IDF’ and the morality which stands at the base of our actions, as I intend to fully preserve.
Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi
IDF Chief of the General Staff
IDF Chief of the General Staff