Friendly-fire incidents are by definition avoidable, but the one on Monday night that claimed the life of IDF Staff Sgt. Natan Fitoussi raises a whole host of questions as to what the rules of engagement were.
Fitoussi and his friend began their guard duty on Monday at 3 p.m. and were supposed to end their shift eight hours later. Their mission was to help stop the illegal entry of Palestinians through the security barrier as part of an effort to bolster security in that region in the wake of recent attacks.
The initial inquiry suggests that toward 10 p.m. Fitoussi left the post so that he could pray. The other soldier claims that when Fitoussi returned, he thought it was a terrorist and initiated a standard arrest protocol, that includes firing in the air, firing toward the legs and then firing toward the torso. But what the investigators have found on the scene raises many questions as to how accurate this account is.
Contrary to some reporting, the shooter didn’t fire just two rounds, but eight. This figure was corroborated by casings found on the ground and by examining the magazine of his rifle. He also fired from the hip, while standing.
The lack of coordination between these two soldiers is hard to grasp. Fitoussi and the shooter had been serving for two years. This was not the first time they had been paired for guard duty. Just days earlier they were doing the same thing at a nearby post, and were briefed extensively on what dangers they were facing, as well as on the rules of engagement.
It’s also not clear why Fitoussi was allowed to go pray while on duty. This, after all, could have been a soft spot exploited by terrorists, who gather basic intelligence on Israeli forces.
What’s worse is that the company commander that arrived at the post to check on them told Fitoussi he should pray closer to the other soldier, but for some reason didn’t tell him to postpone his prayers until he was off guard duty. Had it been pre-approved for soldiers to pray at this specific time of day?
As always, there are many operational conclusions to be drawn following such events. The Military Police will also try to ascertain whether the shooter was criminally negligent and his file will be scrutinized to see if he has had any disciplinary issues and what instructions he had been given.
This should also help the IDF learn the lessons to prevent a recurrence of such an incident. This is the second friendly fire incident in recent months, and at the very least, commanders have a duty to remind soldiers of the rules of engagement and to reevaluate the procedures currently in place. The Judea and Samaria region is rife with danger; friendly fire should not be one of them.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.