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Israel sacks 2 top IDF officials, citing 'serious failure' in strike on Gaza aid workers

After investigating the incident in which seven workers of the aid organization World Central Kitchen were killed, the Israeli military dismissed two senior officers and sanctioned two others.
YASSER QUDIHE/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

Two Israeli reserve officers were fired Friday and two commanders sanctioned over their responsibility in an aerial strike in central Gaza on Monday that killed seven staff members working for the US-based aid group World Central Kitchen.

Revealing the results of its investigation into the deadly incident, the Israel Defense Forces admitted to a series of errors in judgment and serious breach of instructions that led to the attack on the three-vehicle aid convoy. The IDF found that the airstrike was carried out in in blatant violation of IDF rules of engagement and specific instructions for the current war that forbid shooting at armed militants approaching aid vehicles and could have been prevented.

"The IDF takes seriously the grave incident that claimed the lives of seven innocent humanitarian aid workers," read the statement, which continued, "We express our deep sorrow for the loss and send our condolences to the families and the WCK organization. We consider the vital humanitarian activity of international aid organizations to be of utmost importance, and we will continue to work to coordinate and assist their activities, while ensuring their safety and safeguarding their lives."

Col. Nochi Mendel, who served as chief of staff of the Nahal Infantry Brigade, and the brigade’s firepower coordination officer, who was not named publicly, were both dismissed over their involvement in ordering the strike.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi also reprimanded the commander of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, for his “overall responsibility for the incident,” as well as the commander of the 162nd Division, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, and the commander of the Nahal Brigade, Col. Yair Zukerman.

In the statement released on Friday, the IDF explained that the incident, which started late on Monday night, occurred after eight trucks collected humanitarian equipment that had been ferried from Cyprus at the port of Gaza. Three pickup trucks carrying WCK staff joined the convoy, and the group headed for a warehouse. After the humanitarian material was unloaded at the warehouse, the three pickup trucks left the group and took another road. It was on this route that the convoy was attacked.

Using a reconnaissance drone, IDF soldiers on the ground identified an armed person in one of the three vehicles that left the warehouse. The commanders in charge tried to contact the WCK workers on the ground and the group’s headquarters, suspecting the armed man was a Hamas assailant and other Hamas members could be in the convoy. When no contact was made, a drone strike was ordered on the convoy. 

Three missiles were shot at three vehicles, killing seven workers. Among those killed were Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish and dual US-Canadian citizens, according to the organization.

The WCK convoy had been coordinated with the IDF, the Israeli army confirmed, although information on its route was not passed down from senior commanders to the officers on the ground, it said, in a communication breakdown.

The IDF statement also said the findings of the investigation show that the incident should not have happened, explaining, “Those who approved the attack were convinced that they were targeting armed Hamas operatives and not WCK employees.”

It went on, “The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures.” 

The IDF said it had presented the findings to the WCK and to foreign ambassadors on Thursday and was still answering questions from foreign governments and the aid organization itself. 

Following the incident, the aid organization suspended all activities in the Gaza Strip and appeared to be leaning toward permanently ending all operations. On Friday, the group said it was not satisfied with the IDF inquiry, stating the IDF could not investigate its own "failure" and demanding an independent inquiry. "It is also clear from their preliminary investigation that the IDF has deployed deadly force without regard to its own protocols, chain of command and rules of engagement," WCK said in a statement.

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he was "outraged and heartbroken" by the deaths of the seven WCK workers, adding that it was "not a standalone incident" in a war where many aid workers had been killed. In a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Biden said that the United States' support for Israel's war in Gaza would be contingent on Israel taking "specific, concrete and measurable steps" to limit further harm to civilians and aid workers in the war.