15:56 GMT24 November 2020
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    The conclusions of a probe by senior Israeli brass into a January incident at Hatzor Air Base that caused millions of dollars in damage to F-16 fighter jets found that while the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) failed to prepare for the floods, the decision to try and censor photos of the mishap wasn’t part of a coverup attempt.

    On Wednesday, the results of an internal probe by the IDF were handed to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. The subject was catastrophic flooding at Hatzor Air Base on January 9 that inundated eight F-16 Falcon fighter jets, causing $8.7 million in damage.

    Photos of the F-16s, which Israel ironically calls “Sufa” (storm), circulated on social media after the IDF blocked their publication by invoking its power to censor military information.

    ​Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amiram Norkin admitted last month the use of the media policy was erroneous, noting the hesitation to publish the photos came from fears that announcing the loss of operational capabilities could serve the enemy, according to Haaretz. However, Wednesday’s report denies this hesitation was an attempt at a coverup.

    ‘As If We Were Still in the 1950s’

    “The chief of staff stressed that the investigation found that from the start of the flooding incident and throughout it, there was no intention to hide it from the public,” the IDF said in a statement carried by the Times of Israel on Thursday. “The opposite is true - there was a clear intention to publicize it. At the same time, mistakes were made in how it was handled.”

    “The chief of staff determined that the Air Force’s request of the Military Censor to delay publication of the event from Thursday, January 9, to Friday, January 10, was correct. However, by Friday, January 10, [the Air Force] could have informed the Military Censor that the information could be published. The failure to notify the censor was a mistake by the Air Force,” the statement continued.

    However, even by the morning of January 12, the IDF was still refusing to allow publication of the story. The report notes the service had intended to inform the public itself, but this “wasn’t carried out because of an internal error in the Air Force.” Eventually the IDF relented and allowed journalists to publish on the topic later that day.

    Haaretz senior correspondent Amos Harel blasted the censorship, raging that the IDF was behaving “as if we were still in the 1950s,” when Israel was technically at war with Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

    A ‘Biblical’ Deluge

    Unprecedented storms opened up on January 9 over Hatzor Air Base, which is close to the city of Ashdod and the town of Hatzor. When roughly 13 million gallons of water fell onto the area in a little under half an hour, it sent nearby, flooding-prone streams swelling over their banks and onto the air base, where F-16s sit in subterranean bunkers to protect them from enemy bombs and rockets. Flooding from the storms was blamed for at least three deaths across Israel, and social media users described it as “biblical,” The New Arab reported at the time.

    The waters also trapped IDF soldiers inside the flooded hangars, who then had to be rescued.

    The probe reiterated conclusions reached after the incident, finding fault with officers who failed to adequately prepare for the storm. In early February, three base officers were formally censured for their failings, and the base commander was allowed to step down from his position early without punishment, Sputnik reported.

    “The base was improperly prepared for the storm, though they anticipated it,” Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan told reporters on February 4. “They did not take all the necessary actions or give all the necessary instructions. Proper professional conduct in good time would have prevented or significantly reduced the damage."

    While five of the US-made jets have since been repaired, the other three are not anticipated to be fixed until May.


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    Israel, Ashdod, censorship, flooding, F-16, Israeli Air Force (IAF)
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