Lay off Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon

Of all those taking part in the discussion on the Hebron incident, the defense minister is probably the most experienced in dealing with terrorists.

By Moshe Arens

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is really getting it lately. Bloggers, tweeters and Facebook users are lashing out at him over his remarks about the incident in Hebron where a seemingly wounded but alive Palestinian terrorist was shot by a soldier. In the era of social media, people have the opportunity to make public their wildest emotions of the moment, no matter how ugly, senseless or incoherent. The media, looking for political scoops, is eager to spot, publicize and amplify the invectives that are being hurled at the defense minister by people of unknown identity.

Although there is an ongoing investigation and an upcoming military trial, Ya’alon, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the prime minister and many others feel the need to voice their opinions now, before the conclusion of the inquiry and the legal precedings, based on the clip shown on television on the day of the incident. It has become a public debate in which almost everyone is putting in his or her two cents.

Of all those taking part in the discussion, Ya’alon is probably the person most experienced in dealing with terrorists. He commanded the army’s Judea and Samaria division when the first intifada was suppressed, and he was the IDF chief of staff when the second intifada was subdued in Operation Defensive Shield. He certainly speaks with authority on fighting terrorism — more so than all those criticizing him. So give him a little respect, and lay off him!

What are the IDF’s standing orders for opening fire when a soldier faces a terrorist who has been wounded and does not constitute a danger to him? Presumably they are not to shoot in such circumstances. How does the soldier know that the wounded terrorist does not present a danger? That evidently is a matter for the soldier to judge in a split second. “Take no prisoners” is not part of the standing orders for opening fire. There is a theory that ensuring a terrorist does not survive a terror attempt will serve as a deterrent and discourage potential terrorists, but this theory is hard to prove, and it’s certainly not for the individual soldier to implement. It is up to him to follow the orders he has been given to the best of his ability.

The passions aroused on both sides of the argument regarding the soldier’s behavior reflect anger and outrage at the recent series of terror incidents and the determination that we maintain our moral standards even under difficult circumstances. All are presumably prepared to accept the results of the IDF’s investigation and the subsequent decision of the military tribunal.

It is not too farfetched to assume that the judge will make an attempt to delve into the state of mind of the soldier at the time, the degree of stress he was under, and his ability under the circumstances to make a decision that would accord with the rules for opening fire as he was taught them during his army training. Even after all the objective facts have been ascertained, this is the issue that will most likely determine the judge’s ruling.

Innocent until proven guilty is a principle held sacred throughout the civilized world. It applies to the soldier about to stand trial as well. That means that it behooves us all to withhold judgment until the military tribunal pronounces its decision.

It would have been better had the defense minister, the prime minister, and the chief of staff awaited the results of the inquiry and the trial before letting the public know their opinion on the matter. However, be that as it may, hopefully the arguments raging on the subject of the soldier’s action will be laid to rest once the judge issues his verdict.

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