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Court Rules IDF Fumbled 'Terror Tunnel Solution' a Decade Ago

Gag order lifted in decade-old case against IDF, Defense Ministry over failed R&D project to battle terror tunnels.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 8/11/2014, 10:32 AM

Gaza terror tunnel
Gaza terror tunnel
Flash 90

The Tel Aviv District Court handed down a verdict in a closed case Sunday over a project to combat "terror tunnels" that violated regulations thirteen years ago, in a case only revealed after the lifting of a decade-long gag order. 

According to Walla!, the 2001 case centers around a faulty solution to terror tunnels in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza early on in the IDF's grappling with the terror infiltration phenomenon.

Jerusalem businessmen Moses Rothschild, Doron Alter, and Israel Alter proposed a solution to the problem which involved research and development of a technological prototype (details have not been made known to the public). The three reportedly presented their idea to then-Deputy IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe Ya'alon (now Defense Minister) in July of that year; Ya'alon passed the information on to then-Southern Command General Doron Almog. Almog vetoed the idea, however, and stated that in his eyes, there was simply no solution to the terror tunnel problem. 

The businessmen refused to give up, however, and presented the idea again to then-Engineering Corps Commander and current IDF Spokesperson Motti Almoz in 2003. Almoz also nixed the idea.

In 2004, the trio attempted a third time to convince the IDF to take its recommendations - this time to Colonel Ze'ev Liron, Doron Alter's uncle.  Liron passed the idea along to then-Defense Ministry Director, Amos Yaron. 

Yaron summoned Alter to a meeting on the issue and asked him to present the idea to then-General of the Southern Command, Brigadier General Guy Tzur. After Alter presented the idea to Almoz and his successor, Col. Ethan Yitzhaki, the idea was vetoed a third time - thus barring it from being re-introduced to the IDF for review in the future.

The trio, undeterred, approached the Defense Ministry multiple times to submit their proposal for review. In 2004, a further meeting was held with the Director General of the Ministry of Defense; Yaron referred the entrepreneurs to Victor Bar Gil, who served as deputy director of the Defense Ministry and head of logistics operations and assets.

Third time's the lawsuit

At a meeting in early July 2004 with the Vice President of the Defense Ministry and other parties from the Ministry of Defense, the entrepreneurs once again approached officials with their proposal.

Unlike in the past, representatives of the Ministry of Defense saw the solution in a positive light. Accordingly, it was decided that a delegation of the security system would supervise the development of the tunnel-destroying instrument in its Research & Development site in Austin, Texas. 

While the IDF eventually acquired a similar tool for experimental purposes, the instrument was never fully integrated within the IDF. The security system postponed all future work on the project - prompting a request from the development company for the State to repay the expenses of acquiring the prototype from the US. A lawsuit later filed on the ordeal claimed that the Israeli government also violated trade secrets in the deal. 

The case includes two lawsuits, according to the Marker - one filed by Fabtech Inc. in 2003 and Rahmani D.A.M. Earthworks Ltd, an Afula-based company which works with the Defense Ministry in 2009.

"Although most professional entities in the army believed that this is a suitable solution, we were shuffled back and forth between the various defense (departments) for three years, when all the while they invested their energy and money into improving and upgrading the proposed solution, based on the needs presented to them by the defense establishment," the plaintiffs stated, according to a report in The Marker.

The plaintiffs added "at the end of that time, they discovered that the security system not only lost precious years which could make use of the proposed solution, but also that trade secrets entrusted to the defense establishment were transferred to third parties, in violation of the commitment by the security system to use them specifically to implement the proposal."

The Defense Ministry countered that "for a long time, the entrepreneurs exerted pressure on security chiefs and the government, taking advantage of prior familiarity with them [. . .] the entrepreneurs had never given any assurance that the project would come to fruition." 

Partial compensation

In the verdict, which was handed down in late July, Justice Michal Agmon-Gonen examined the company's claims against Israel's security establishment, and ruled that the vendor was not contacted through official channels - only through a series of senior officers.

The problem, she said, was the discrepancy between the officers - who were willing to conduct various tests on the prototype - and the official IDF and professional teams, who rejected the outcome.

Agmon-Gonen also rejected claims of Israel violating trade secrets, and ruled that the company is only due for partial compensation for the R&D team. The security system had not made eminently clear to the technology company that it had not yet given the green light to use of the instrument for future use, and sent a delegation to the Texas site only to find the instrument not fully assembled - a violation of regulations. 

"The defense establishment was obligated to clarify to the plaintiffs explicitly and clearly that it had not yet made a final decision to implement the solution proposed by the developers," the verdict states. 

The judge added that representatives of the Defense Ministry and the IDF "did not ensure to act reasonably and fairly with plaintiffs and convey to the [plaintiffs] the full risks they take [in developing the tool], as they were obligated to do."

She added that the defense establishment "knew very well that [. . .] the plaintiffs will have to spend significant expenditures for the acquisition of the instrument," even at an early stage in its development, and stated that the officials "violated the obligations imposed on pre-contract protocol and even more so when they are working on behalf of the state."

"Please note that it may well be that the picture was not presented to the plaintiffs in this security system because their representatives were convinced that the solution will be implemented," she concluded.

The security establishment was required to pay a $50,000 compensation fee to the entrepreneurial trio, in addition to 20,000 shekel ($5773) in legal fees.