.חשיפה: מפקד היחידה הרב-מימדית החדשה שתוקם בצה”ל הוא סא”ל עמי ביטון
In a story, some of whose details may not be published under military censorship, Lt. Col. Ami Biton, 38, was appointed by the new army chief of staff to command a newly-created specialized unit. Its purpose and methods are a closely guarded secret. The only details offered in Israeli media are that it will be comprised of personnel from the air force, artillery, armored, engineering and intelligence. They will be tasked with developing “new methods of war-fighting for the modern battlefield.” It is part of the new operational plans of Aviv Kochavi, the recently appointed IDF chief of staff.
Israeli media may not report Biton’s full name for fear he would be targeted in international war crimes investigations. In the past, I reported his appointment as head of the notorious Duvdevan division within the IDF. It’s role is to invade Palestinian villages and arrest, or even assassinate suspects. Because it often disguises itself in Arab dress (mistarvim) it is especially hated and often faces strong resistance and attacks from villagers.
I’m reporting this story on Memorial Day, which here commemorates soldiers who died in battle or military service. That’s another reason the following has special resonance.
There is special controversy in Biton’s appointment because there was a major accident in Duvdevan when he commanded the unit. In 2018, two soldiers were playing with pistols, believing they each had a safety lock. However, one soldier’s weapon did not have a lock. As they practiced firing, without permission from, or supervision of their superiors, Staff Sgt. Shachar Strug was accidentally shot and killed. The investigation which followed found that inside Duvdevan there was a culture of negligence regarding use of firearms. In the year prior to the fatal accident, there had been three similar ones in which no one had been injured. It further found that such games played with weapons was a common practice in the unit and that commanders had not used the prior accidents in order to school soldiers in proper handling and use of firearms. As a result, the prior chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, decided to cancel Biton’s promotion to command a paratroop unit and to delay any future promotions for two years.
Israeli media report that the promotion had faced controversy in the IDF ranks as senior officers believe it betrays an indifference to the issue of lack of discipline in the ranks and to major fatal accidents, for which in this case Biton had overall responsibility. Kochavi is attempting to bypass some of the controversy by not promoting Biton in rank until his two-year suspension ends, and then only if IDF expands the unit beyond its initial launch parameters.
Ironically, Biton was quoted in a separate article about the lessons he’s learned as a commander, in terms of his responsibility to his troops:
When his battalion commander, Ami Biton, is asked how he sees his role in terms of his soldiers, he answers simply. “Two things: to avoid adding to the list at the memorial site as much as possible, and for those who do fall, to know that they fell for good reason.”
Clearly, he never learned the lesson he set for himself. Rewarding him despite such failure is a dangerous message to send to the rest of the force, unless that message involves making excuses for such failures and glossing over them.
I am purposely violating military censorship (though I’m not bound by it at any rate) because current Israeli reporting has not named Biton. Thus, Israelis may not know about his past role in targeted assassinations and may not fully connect him to the fatal accidents in his unit. It is far more important for citizens to be fully informed when such major decisions are made on their behalf, than it is to respect the censorship regime.