On January 9, 2017, an Arab truck driver drove his heavy rig into a group of IDF soldiers. He killed 4 and injured at least 15. It was an act of terror.
One context for this attack was a recent military trial of one Sargent Elor Azariya. This soldier had shot a terrorist in Hevron. He was found guilty of manslaughter for killing a terrorist 'without reason'. Most Israelis feel he should never have been arrested, let alone brought to trial. As many as 70% of Israelis believe he should now be pardoned.
Sentencing will be in February.
When this terrorist trucker struck, many soldiers ran. They ran away from the point of attack. Their running was clearly a run away from danger, not an advance towards/against it. For some, the runners looked like soldiers in a disorganized rout.
Some have suggested that part of the reason for this rout was an 'Azariya effect'. That is, because of the Azariya verdict, soldiers are now afraid to shoot lest they be charged with shooting 'without reason' (the language of the guilty verdict against Azariya).
Israeli officials reject this suggestion. They say it's untrue. They say IDF soldiers are not afraid to face terrorists.
To counter this accusation that soldiers ran because of a fear to shoot, IDF officials have trotted out a soldier to declare that it's wrong to say anyone reacted with an 'Azariya effect'; she (the soldier) had stood and fired at the driver.
That's fine. We've now read of two soldiers firing their weapons (the first soldier had been interviewed at the scene of the attack). But there were 298 other soldiers at the scene of the attack. If two--or even, say, six--soldiers fired their weapons, there still were dozens of soldiers seen in a video taken at at the scene who did not shoot. They ran.
The IDF has not told Israeli citizens how it intends to address this running away. It has ignored it.
The IDF has a problem it isn't willing to acknowledge. The IDF has simply not accepted the fact that its military court verdict against Sargent Azariya has had a shocking affect on IDF soldiers. Many may run rather than risk arrest.
Instead of addressing this mistaken verdict, the IDF has gotten its to Ombudsman to send a letter to soldiers, as if that's what this situation requires. In that letter, the Ombudsman told soldiers 'to maintain the IDF's 'purity of arms'" ("Ombudsman to soldiers: maintain ethical behavior", arutzsheva, January 10, 2017). Purity of arms is the IDF code of ethics. You can read that code at www.idfblog.com/about-the-idf/idf-code-of-ethics/.
Ah. Well now, that will surely fix things, right? No, it doesn't fix anything.
But that letter is an admission. It tells us the IDF feels an urgency to tell soldiers not to stray from the IDF code of behavior. That letter suggests the IDF knows it's got a 'behavior' problem. Why else remind soldiers at this moment to remember how they must behave?
Instead of addressing this problem in a forthright manner, the IDF speaks around the issue, not to it. The man who controls the IDF, Israel's Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, won't address the issue, either. He won't even acknowledge it. He simply says Israelis should 'stop the noise' about Azariya...we are doing everything to protect the values of the IDF and the soldier Azariya" ("Liberman: stop the noise about Azariya", arutzsheva, January 10, 2017).
Yes, you can be certain the IDF will 'protect its values'. But what does it do for Azariya? It asks Azariya to surrender his legal right to appeal the verdict against him ("TV report: Hevron shooter [Azariay] to be offered reduced jail term if he drops appeal", timesofisrael, January 7, 2017).
How does giving up a legal right help Azariya? The IDF promises a lesser sentence.
Somehow, this 'offer' sends a different message. It suggests the IDF makes a self-serving attempt to avoid closer scrutiny of what some might term a kangaroo court verdict.
Since this truck terror attack, the IDF has been busy defending itself. For example, in addition to trotting out that one soldier (above), the IDF has "bravely" announced that IDF soldiers are not afraid to strike at terrorists ("[IDF Major-General Eyal] Zamir: soldiers not concerned despite Azariya ruling", arutzsheva, January 10, 2017). Really?
A video exists that shows how 'unafraid' IDF soldiers are to confront a terrorist. It's the video of yesterday's attack. Look below at how IDF soldiers run away from the attack (upper left corner of video). The run away from the bus. Look also at how other soldiers at the center of the video run. Is this a picture of a strong, fearless army unafraid to face danger--or a rout?
You tell me who's right--the IDF, which denies any 'Azariya effect', or the video, which shows how quickly IDF soldiers can choose not to shoot.
Our IDF has a problem. It is supposed to stand strong. Instead, it's playing ostrich. It sticks its collective head into the ground. It seems to be trying to avoid the unpleasant realization that this verdict could end up damaging the IDF as much as it might damage the poor 19-year old Sargent Azariya.
For now, the IDF prefers playing ostrich to facing the truth. It doesn't understand that playing ostrich with your head in the ground doesn't make you look serious or fearsome to implacable, hate-filled enemies. It makes you look vulnerable and weak.
Is this the image Israel wants our enemies to see? Apparently, it is.