הרמטכל אביב כוכבי הבוקר על טרגדיית הקצין מאמן בכנס לזכרו של הרמטכל לשעבר אמנון ליפקין שחק זל pic.twitter.com/D12hBYcU2f
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) June 9, 2021
In an unprecedented statement, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi addressed the nation concerning the death of AMAN Capt. Tomer Eiges in a military prison. He was forced to do so by the rising furor inside Israel about the death of the young, brilliant cyber-intelligence specialist. Eiges had been kidnapped off a Tel Aviv street last September by counter-intelligence officers and held in solitary confinement for most of the nine months he was in custody for a crime the army has refused to disclose.
Yesterday, Avner Cohen and I co-authored a post which offers strong circumstantial evidence of the alleged offense: Eiges during his cyber-intelligence work had, we theorize, discovered a major vulnerability in an operating system of the cell phones and electronic devices it hacks. The officer either published the vulnerability and its source code or planned to do so. He likely saw this as a way to market himself to future employers as he prepared to leave army service.
Kochavi’s statement indicates the army has been roiled by the scandal and that it recognizes that it gravely mishandled it:
This AMAN officer is my soldier, a soldier belonging to all of us–even if he committed the gravest offense. He committed these grave acts knowingly and with an intention I don’t know how to describe. I am very sorry for this. This officer is not comparable to Prisoner X [Ben Zygier] nor to anything else they are trying to portray.
This officer was in contact with his family and those around him in prison. Everything we did was in order to preserve his privacy and that of his family with a sense of fairness. We wanted to protect him and the major secret with which he almost damaged–in the 90th minute [the end of a soccer match]–we stopped him.
He was an excellent officer. I am very sorry about this incident. No matter what he did, it is forbidden for him to die in prison. This must be investigated.
Clearly, the army found that its hard-nosed approach wasn’t working. So it tried a soft touch, acknowledging that the baby-faced Tomer was a child of the nation. A gifted young man with much to contribute.
But there remain troubling aspects of the IDF’s defense. First, unlike previous army statements, Kochavi doesn’t say that Eiges committed any actual crime, but he intended to commit one. How do you give someone a ten-year prison sentence for intending to commit an act which is arguably a crime, but which hundreds of other AMAN and Unit 8200 officers have done before him (marketing their skills and coding projects to civilian employers)?
Though the chief of staff claims Eiges had contact with his family the truth lies elsewhere. For weeks, if not months, he had no contact with anyone except his interrogators and possibly his lawyer. Otherwise, he was in solitary confinement. Only towards the end of his confinement was he moved to a newer prison, Neve Tzedek and placed in the general prison population. Even then, his parents were only permitted 20-minute visits once every two weeks. This is quite different from what the army is admitting.
Claiming that its actions were solely for the sake of the prisoner and his family is utter hypocrisy. A major national institution doesn’t care for an individual soldier or his family. It can’t. It cares for itself and its own institutional prerogatives. It protects those intensely. It only respects an individual in these circumstances if it has to do so. And for the past nine months it didn’t need to care for Tomer Eiges at all. That’s why he died.
Only now, after this miserable failure, must it account for its shameful abuse of this doomed individual. As for the investigation Kochavi promised, it will go like all such things do: it will express remorse, say it shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And since it did, there’s no purpose in punishing anyway. Water under the bridge. The IDF hopes interest in this case will die down and go away. It is up to Israelis to prove it wrong.
The family lawyer was having none of it:
We respect the chief of staff. But the IDF failed at a key part of its mission–to keep all lives safe in a guarded and supervised military facility [the prison]. The family demands a comprehensive, transparent investigation in order to understand the how this tragic event could be permitted to happen.
For Tomer’s sake, for his family’s sake, for the sake of all Israeli youth, don’t permit this case to die. Keep it alive.