Israeli journalist Yigal Sarna, writing in Yediot, has unearthed a troubling scandal from Naftali Bennett’s past service in the IDF. And just in time for the upcoming Israeli elections! How convenient!
His article is called Colonel Kurtz, Captain Bennett. In April 1996, he was Capt. Naftali Bennett of the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal. He commanded 67 soldiers who were a special paratroopers unit that often fought behind enemy lines and engaged in covert operations.
During Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon, Bennett was filled with contempt for a military command marked by hesitation and timidity and as cautious as the then-prime minister, Shimon Peres. Following eight days in which Bennett followed Hezbollah forces and scouted their rocket launch locations, he took it upon himself to deviate from his orders. He acted like a man with a knife in his teeth, according to a friend’s account: someone who sought action, engaging the enemy, and killing. At the time, he boasted proudly that about changing his operational mission without consulting his superiors.
He was a field commander in the mold of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, skilled, violent, daring and rash. He believed it was in his power to vanquish the enemy if he could only free himself from the limitations of the orders given him by politicians and commanders too timid for his taste. Kurtz wanted to do it his way: to kill and prevail. But it ended badly for him.
That April day, Bennett’s force met with highly effective mortar fire of a Hezbollah unit near Kafr Qana. It was then that he realized he couldn’t prevail on his own. He needed a battery of IDF 155mm howitzers [to come to his rescue], which hit a refugee camp and killed 102 civilians.
Sarna refers to IDF fire, which struck a refugee camp in which hundreds of Lebanese were taking shelter. Nearby was a UN facility housing peacekeepers. Besides the civilians, four UN troops were killed.
In a Facebook post last night, Israeli journalist Raviv Drucker recounts a story he heard from an IDF officer and eyewitness of the events of that day. According to him, a hysterical Bennett pressured his superiors to bring far more firepower than necessary to bear save his ass. The result was this “terrible catastrophe.”
The massacre, like a similar one that occurred in the same place during the 2006 Lebanon war, shocked the world and led to the end of the conflict. However, Israel refused in both instances to apologize for the huge death toll. Shimon Peres, prime minister at the time of the first Kafr Qana massacre said: “We regret, but we will never apologize.” But apologize he did, in the form of bowing to the enormous pressure exerted on him by the international community, which was shocked by the carnage. Peres quickly ended the operation, to the disgust of then-Captain Bennett.
Sarna points out that if Bennett ever becomes prime minister it will mean that Israel will have had three leaders in a row with combat experience in Sayeret Matkal. While military heroes often make attractive political leaders, the journalist argues that this particular elite force, schooled in secrecy, discipline and absolute command, makes for exceedingly bad prime ministers as proven by Ehud Barak and Netanyahu himself, both veterans of this special forces unit.
Successful political leaders consult with both allies and opponents. They compromise. They decide when it’s wise to fight and when it’s wise to withdraw. For the good politician, discretion is the better part of valor.
A Sayeret Matkalnik knows only one gear: forward. He doesn’t hesitate, he charges forward. He acts and worries about consequences afterward. He knows his bosses will have his back and doesn’t worry about those vacillators in sitting in ministries. The very contempt for compromise that makes a good special forces commanders makes for a bad commander in chief.
That’s why the failures of Naftali Bennett as a soldier are instrumental and instructive as to what sort of political leader he might be. This is not to say that Israeli voters will mind. They’re exceedingly forgiving when it comes to carnage, as long as Arabs are the ones killed. In fact, Arabs are like “Indians” in American frontier military lore. The more scalps you have under your belt the more highly regarded you are.
Incidents like this are far more important to foreigners like many of you reading this, who view events in Israel through a broader perspective. For many of us, the thought of an Israeli leader who caused a war crime is repugnant. Let that be clearly marked on his record, so that those of us who care will know, and not let others who are more forgiving, forget.
If Bennett does rise to the highest seat of power it wouldn’t be the first time an Israeli leader arose from the ranks of terrorists and war criminals. The examples of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir precede him.
Uhhh….was the Hezbollah mortar fire that was raining down on Bennett’s platoon being launched from within the refugee camp that was subsequently bombed by the IDF?
Amiran Cohen says
[Comment deleted: comments must be on topic & substantive. Those which are not will be deleted & may lead to being moderated in future.]
Yeah, Right says
No, there was no fire coming from the refugee camp / UN Observer compound.
The closest position of Hezbollah mortars was 220 metres from the compound, and thus well outside the margin of error of Drone-directed artillery fire:
“(b) The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) by a few rounds, as suggested by the Israeli forces.
(c) During the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the United Nations compound.”
And, yes, the IDF knew that for a fact because they had a drone flying overhead while the IDF was shelling those locations:
And how do your facts connect to Bennett? Was he directing the errant artillery fire?
Stop the hasbara nonsense, it wasn’t “errant” shelling of the UN compound. Read the evidence from Major Kappen, a true and professional military man, in his evidence based report. Israeli military and leading officers LIED as they still do today to protect one of their own. From the UN Report, first the Israeli account of events:
“On 21 April, I met with Major-General Vilnai at Tel Aviv and visited the artillery battalion. On both occasions, the Director of Israeli artillery, Brigadier-General Dan Harel, was also present. He, I was told, had investigated the shelling incident. The Israeli officers gave the following account of the incident:
(a) In the early afternoon of 18 April, and Israeli patrol had come under fire emanating from Qana. The precise location of the patrol was not given, except that it was close to the “red line”, which is a line on Israeli maps that marks the northern edge of the Israeli-controlled areas in southern Lebanon. Mortar shells had fallen as close as 40 metres to the patrol, which had requested assistance. The Israeli forces had initiated rescue fire procedures:”
To be clear, the IDF purposeful shelling of an UNIFIL compound where over 800 Lebanese civilians (many children) had taken refuge. See map of impact of 155mm artillery shells, both impact fused rounds and proximity fused [!] rounds.
“The second concentration of impacts was centred on the middle of the United Nations compound. Given the number and state of the casualties and the destruction caused by the shelling, a major clean-up operation had to be launched immediately after the end of the shelling. This resulted in the loss of important evidence. However, there was substantial evidence of multiple proximity-fused artillery ammunition detonating directly above the compound, covering a large portion of its area. While the exact number cannot be determined, the available evidence suggests that eight such projectiles detonated over the compound and one just outside it. There was also evidence that five high-explosive point-detonating projectiles detonated in the compound and three close to it. In sum, evidence was found of 13 detonations inside or directly above the compound and 4 very close to it. Almost all the proximity fuses were used in the area of the United Nations compound.”
In response to repeated questions, the Israeli interlocutors stated that there had been no Israeli aircraft, helicopters or remotely piloted vehicles (RPV) in the air over Qana before, during or after the shelling. (These would have enabled the Israeli forces to observe the target area and adjust their fire.) However, at my request, General Vilnai promised on 21 April to look into this question again. On 26 April, Brigadier-General David Tzur, Chief Israeli Liaison Officer to Foreign Forces, confirmed in writing that there were “no choppers or Mini-RPVs flying above the area of Qana on 18 April, before or during the incident”.
Several witnesses stated that they saw an RPV over the Qana area before, during and after the shelling. Two helicopters were seen 2 kilometres south-east of the United Nations compound during the shelling and one was observed close to the compound after the shelling had finished. The presence of one helicopter and an RPV was documented on a video tape, which covers the latter part of the shelling. It was taken by a member of the Force Mobile Reserve from a position overlooking the United Nations compound at Qana from a distance of about 1.5 kilometres. The RPV on the tape was of a type with a real-time data link capability.
Oui – nothing of your feisty comment have anything to do with Mr. Bennett so how does it answer Figg’s question? How does any of it a his war crime? (Maybe b/c you said the H-word???)
Is he guilty of stupidity for leading his soldiers there? Maybe.
Is he guilty for calling it in once under fire? No. That was his duty.
Did he know there were civilians where he believed mortar were shot at him? Most probably not. by now everyone agrees he was not in the geographical boundaries of his initial mission.
Is there is anything in your ‘evidence’ that remotely connect him to giving an order to kill all those people? Not even remotely enough!
So what is it that makes him a war criminal except for the fact you really don’t like him?
Richard Silverstein says
Do NOT repeat arguments made by you not others which you have done. Of course he’s culpable because he violated orders and was in a position the IDF hadn’t plsnnrd, making it difficult to relieve him without killing civilians. He’s accountable, not to mention the original violation of Lebanese sovereignty in invading & occupying Lebanon.
I liked Bennett the moment he renounced his US citizenship. I never even accused Bennett of being a war criminal. For Israel, its political and military leadership are very welcome in my home town, The Hague.
@Richard “he’s culpable… He’s accountable”. That does NOT make him war-criminal. Using the term where unfit just reduce the seriousness of it’s meaning. You don’t make Bennet a war-criminal but reduce seriousness of actions of real war-criminals, just dilute the definition.
But this is not new to anti-current-israeli-governmentists. Many terms are misused and lost much of their original meaning. Apartheid, genocide, colonialism and my favorite, Hasbara.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel: It certainly does make him a war criminal. He called in the air strikes that hit the school. He’s guilty of the crime. I agree that Peres should be in the dock as well. But Bennett should certainly be there with him.
Let’s make this the last comment for you in the thread. Please move on.
Yeah, Right says
How do my facts relate to Bennett?
Such an odd question, since *MY* facts were written in response to a question asking if there was any chance that the IDF was directing artillery fire at the compound in response to mortar fire originating from that compound
And *MY* facts provide the correct answer: no, there is no possibility of that.
But, hey, to answer your (new) question: the facts relate to Bennett because his incompetence led his troops into a predicament where he demanded disproportionate artillery fire, and therefore as a direct result of his military incompetence over 100 innocent lives were snuffed out.
Does that answer your question?
I fully agree and it’s all written as evidence in the UN Report.
Yeah, Right – Figg ask a question. You answered. Then figg asked – “what does that have to do with bennett?” at which point Oui said H-word, blah-blah-blah.
My question was then directed specifically to Oui “How the alleged war-crime related to bennett?” so I’m not sure why do you go on the defensive here! No-one questioned your facts (or agree with them), just asked – How does that make Naftali Bennett a war criminal?
Eyewitness, David Zonsheine, the chairman of the board of B’Tselem, Israel’s preeminent human rights organization, who served in the same unit and took part in the mission, claimed on Facebook that there was nothing wrong with Bennett’s actions that night and that in any case, he couldn’t have been held responsible for the killing. Other members of Maglan came out in support of Bennett as well.
Yeah, Right says
At no time did I address any comment to you, Ariel.
Figg asked a question, I answered him, whereupon Figg asked how my facts relate to Bennett.
Which I answered.
At no time did I pay the slightest attention to anything you posted, precisely because it was so transparently an attempt at a straw men
The issue is Bennett’s lack of judgment, which is driven by his egocentric arrogance.
That arrogance led to the IDF committing a war crime that they WOULDN’T have carried out if they hadn’t needed to save his sorry arse, and it is indeed a legitimate question to ask if you want such an arrogant dimwit running an over-armed and aggressive country like Israel.
Richard Silverstein says
If he hadn’t gone rogue he wouldn’t have been where he wasn’t supposed to be.
[give it up bud, your comments are always so hateful you’ll never be published here]
Dan Hillas says
Nope , Bennett was inside Lebanon , the camp was a UN peace observers camp , A United Nations rear supply base with spare empty shipping containers that civilians sheltered in , Bennett directly gave the artillery units the coordinates for the UN camp , that broke the camel’s back , Israel could not face The UN and an angry world with a yet another lie , the war stopped .
1. Your headline is unclear. Are you saying Bennet’s unit committed war crime under his command and orders? (Don’t blame me for not seeing the forest, you worded it).
2. A Sayeret Matkalnik…” did you even read the whole article? Serena’s argument is almost the opposite – ‘Matkalnik’ sticks to the plan like in a lab, no personal opinion, no democracy which ,Serena explains, is why Matkalniks aren’t good PMs. (luckily for Bennet, he was in Maglan).
3. Serena finishes with”להזהר כמו מאש כוחותינו. זה הכי קטלני”. I guess he was referring to himself.
I guess if you said something good about Israel I would be obligated to make the blessing שהחינו!
Ronan – you totally misunderstand RS. It isn’t about bad or good, it is all constructive criticism. How could you miss it? It is right there in the moto – “Promoting Israeli democracy”.
Former Sayeret Matkal commanders Maj. Gen. (res.) Shai Avital, who was Bennett’s battalion commander; former Maglan commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Assaf Shavit; Col. (res.) Roni Balkin; another former Maglan commander, Lt. Col. Eyal Dayan, the current deputy commander of Maglan, and numerous other officers, signed a letter defending Bennet’s actions in Lebanon.
It’s possible that these trusted peers had some interest in deflecting criticism. Do you think that’s possible, or should we just take them at their word?
The question is whether or not young Captain Bennett was directing the errant artillery fire. If the drone operator was directing the artillery fire, than Captain Bennett is exonerated.
Stop the hasbara nonsense, it wasn’t “errant” shelling of the UN compound. Read the evidence from Major Kappen – link to my comment above.
Richard Silverstein says
@Figg: Not at all.
THE UN REPORT of 1996
The UN appointed military advisor Major-General Franklin van Kappen of the Netherlands to investigate the massacre. He said in his conclusion that:
a) The distribution of impacts at Qana shows two distinct concentrations, whose mean points of impact are about 140 meters apart. If the guns were converged, as stated by the Israeli forces, there should have been only one main point of impact.
b) The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) by a few rounds, as suggested by the Israeli forces.
c) During the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the United Nations compound.
d) The distribution of point impact detonations and air bursts makes it improbable that impact fuses and proximity fuses were employed in random order, as stated by the Israeli forces.
e) There were no impacts in the second target area which the Israeli forces claim to have shelled.
f) Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle were present in the Qana area at the time of the shelling.
While the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.”
Preventing a recurrence
On 19 April, General Levine informed General Wozniak of new precautions adopted by the Israeli forces with regard to firing at targets near United Nations positions. I recommend that these measures be reviewed and confirmed at the political level.
○ Qana airstrike of 2006 and this continuous in Gaza in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Does the UN Report shed any light on the conduct of, than, Captain Bennett?
See Yeah Right’s comment above – link.
Every war criminal has his cheerleaders, I’m intersted in his personal views.
○ Bennett: “Heroism should not be investigated.”
“I made it clear: Heroism should not be investigated. Givati fighters deserve medals, not lawyers,” Bennett said.
Bennett spoke out against the criminal investigation of Givati Brigade soldiers for enacting the Hannibal Protocol, which is thought to involve massive use force against a wide area causing heavy casualties.
Bennett questioned the motivation of anyone seeking to sully the name of “the bravest fighters in the world with a value of friendship that is unparalleled in the world,” and that anyone who did so to the soldiers in Operation Protective Edge has twisted morals and is not worthy of their protection.
Bennett’s “heroism” was under scrutiny in the Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, which was a two-week offensive launched jointly by the IDF and the now-defunct South Lebanon Army against Hezbollah aimed at quelling rocket fire that was “pounding” northern Israel.
Three Israeli soldiers were killed, while Hezbollah lost 14 fighters. One Syrian soldier was also killed.
“Israeli pilots carried out 600 air raids with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and artillery units fired some 25,000 shells into Lebanese territory. Some 154 civilians were killed in Lebanon, and another 351 injured. The guerrillas fired 639 Katyusha rockets into Israel. There were no Israeli civilian deaths, although three Israeli women sustained serious injuries. In any international armed conflict, the conduct of all sides is governed by international humanitarian law (the laws of war), which is codified in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol I). Protocol I, which supplements the Geneva Conventions.”
Nearly half a million Lebanese were displaced.
Arie Brand says
“The most moral army in the world” with “the bravest fighters in the world” with “a value of friendship that is unparalleled in the world”. This kind of bragging sounds puerile, especially when one comes to think of the fact that it was bravery on the cheap – mostly shown in encounters with vastly weaker opponents.
And those Dutch peacekeepers showed so much bravery at Srebrenica. So much morality.
That is a really puerile comment, Figg. (Look up the word.)
Arie Brand says
Perhaps Figg would be helped out with the word “childish” – because that is what it is.
[Comment deleted: do not argue with my editorial judgments.]
Richard Silverstein says
I’ve never heard of IDF sending personnel as peacekeepers anywhere in the world. Must be because it does such a bad job of peacekeeping at home.
Arie Brand says
“Arie insulted Israeli soldiers, I insulted Dutch soldiers.
What’s puerile in that?”
tu quoque (logical fallacy)
“What’s puerile in that?”
We shouldn’t have to tell you – but for the sake of your education here goes:
tu quoque (logical fallacy)
“A type of ad hominem argument in which a person turns a charge back on his or her accuser: a logical fallacy. (See Examples and Observations, below.)
From the Latin, “you too”
• “It is clear that a tu quoque response to an accusation can never refute the accusation. • •
• “Of all human instincts, not even the urge to say ‘I told you so’ is stronger than the response called tu quoque: ‘Look who’s talking.’ To judge from children, it is innate (‘Cathy says you took her chocolate,’ ‘Yes but she stole my doll’), and we don’t grow out of it . . ..”
There are similarities and dissimilarities between the Srebrenica and Qana. In both instances, civilians had taken refuge in a UN compound and were attacked by foreign armed forces. For the warcrimes of Radovic and Milosovich a special UN Tribunal was initiated and the perpetrators taken to court. This has not happened in the case of Israel and Palestine.
○ Eyewitness account: Massacre in Sanctuary
A Fijian soldier, looking at a dead woman lying at his feet, her neck encircled with blood, said simply: “The guerrillas fired six Katyushas from near our position. The shells came in two minutes later. But the Israelis know we’re here. This has been a UN battalion headquarters for 18 years. They knew we had 600 refugees here.”
In Israel Hayom (which Bennet did not support) Nehemia Dagan wrote today Not everyone can investigate. He writes “I resolved that only those who saw combat up close would get to scrutinize his actions and decide his fate” and NOT journalists (or bloggers???).
He adds “They should appoint a committee that would be headed by someone who is versed in the relevant field of the law. A combat officer should also sit on such a committee.”
Someone who saw combat up close? I suggest Uri Avnery.
Those were the days!
○ “South Lebanon is Free Lebanon and Israel’s only true ally in the Middle East”
In the United States, the south Lebanon lobby took similar steps, with the result that a number of Christian and Jewish organizations put continued autonomy of the security zone on their agendas. This effort to convince Israelis and Americans to see the land between Jezzine and the Galilee not as an occupied territory waiting for withdrawal but as a disputed cause waiting for solution culminated in April 1996, when the National Unity Conference for Israel [pdf], a coalition of 190 Christian and Jewish organizations, issued a position paper calling on the Israeli and American governments not to abandon their “allies in south Lebanon, and to extend their protection to the Christian community in Lebanon.
Hizbullah organized sporadic ambushes against SLA and Israeli patrols, and the government in Beirut demanded that the U.N. Security Council protest “Israel’s continuous occupation of the south.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich, publicly declared his government’s intention to “subcontract Lebanon to Syria in eventual peace arrangements.” U.S. officials similarly spoke positively of Syria’s role: according to the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, Philip Wilcox, “Syria has used its influence from time to time to restrain Hizbollah rocket attacks across the Israeli border.”
“Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri denounced the raids
and accused Israel of fueling instability in the Middle East. ”
Perhaps a suggestion for Netanyahu III : use the Jabhat al-Nusra as a proxy to create a security zone against the Iranian forces supporting Assad II in South Syria.. The Christian militias have been decimated over the last three decades and the Alawites have been cornered, all played out so well … you can now choose between Islamic terror groups.
The SLA was an Israeli creation. What does that have to do with al-Nusra? (or with the topic?)
Israel creating a “security zone” outside its own territory and sovereignty. See earlier article by RS on IDF support for al Nusra near the Golan Heights.
Your “hero” soldier Bennett took his patrol far into Lebanese territory, perhaps even beyond Israel’s occupation red line, drawing live fire from Hezbolla defenders. IDF artillery under command of Dan Harel had to save hero Bennett’s @ss by pounding the surroundings with 155mm rounds thereby targeting the UNIFIL compound with over 800 Lebanese civilians who had taken refuge there from earlier Israel bombardments.
QANA – ANATOMY OF A TRAGEDY
Did Israel Wittingly Shell A U.N. Base In Qana? A Disturbing Investigation Is Hotly Disputed / May 20, 1996
Time International By JAMES WALSH
Can someone find the video recording made by a UNIFIL soldier of Force Mobile Reserve (FMR) showed the shelling?
In Haaretz column, Israeli journalist Raviv Drucker who recounted a story he heard from an IDF officer, apologizes to Bennett and say “Sorry, I was wrong” and “That night, in 1996, you were at an important place for Israeli society”. He then continues and attacks Bennett for “lack of political bravery”.
Some people don’t know how to say simply “I was wrong”.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel: You’ve neglected to mention that the entire column is written in a cynical, ironic mode making it unclear what portions are meant to be sincere and in which Drucker is being ironic.
Richard – Unfortunately, Haaretz didn’t bother to translate it to English (yet?) so your readers cannot judge for themselves.
Sentences such as “I apologize, Naftali, sorry I was wrong”, “you convince me, without cynicism” or “No doubt, that night…” do tell he is sincerely convinced that Bennett acted as would be expected of him.
I even briefly mentioned the criticism he had on Bennett’s political actions even though it isn’t the topic. Like I wrote before – Some people don’t know how to say simply “I was wrong”.