Will IDF re-examine its rules of engagement following Gaza border incident?

“They spoke to us about protesters … no one warned us about terrorists.” 

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

“Lessons will be learned and their conclusions will be presented to me,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted Monday morning after talking to the parents of St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli, who was critically injured during mass riots along the Gaza border on Saturday.

Shmueli, 21, suffered a serious injury after an armed terrorist shot him in the head from point-blank range. He is still fighting for his life at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, the hospital said Monday morning.

“I understand the family’s pain and share their burden,” Bennett wrote.

On Sunday, after the Israel Air Force (AIF) targeted four sites used to store and manufacture weapons in central and northern Gaza overnight, Bennett vowed to “settle the score with those who harm our fighters and the citizens of Israel.”

However, Israel’s response to the incident was met with a volley of criticism. Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi went as far as deeming Bennett’s response as “shameful.”

“A Hamas security man fires at point-blank at Shmueli, and critically wounds him and what is your reaction?!?! Shooting at factories and warehouses! Shame!,” Davidi wrote.

And while Bennett came under fire for his handling of the situation, others noted that the IDF’s rules of engagement, or their lack of clarity, are the real problem.

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Shmueli’s parents blamed IDF conduct for their son’s injury and specifically the rules of engagement that they believe allowed the incident to take place in the first place.

“How do they let them get to close to the soldiers? … Why did my son need to reach the hospital because of a protest?”, Shmueli’s father asked.

“[A] terrorist sniped at him from zero distance and all this with the knowledge that our soldiers knew they were not allowed to shoot and respond. Why did they send my son? Why? I want an answer!”, Shumeli’s mother said Monday during an interview with 103FM radio.

And soldiers who fought alongside Shmueli seemed to voice his parents’ concerns. “The rules of engagement were not clear,” one soldier told Walla News. “They told us what to do when our life is in danger but also said we need special approval to shoot in certain cases,” he added, noting that “hundreds of Palestinians made it to the fence” before an approval was given to use rubber bullets.

Other soldiers said that “we didn’t know we were in danger, we didn’t see armed terrorists approaching the fence … a soldier would never position his rifle through a slit in the wall if he knew that there were terrorists underneath him,” adding that “they spoke to us about protesters … no one warned us about terrorists.”

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The IDF’s rules of engagement have been subject to criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, with some insisting that the precaution expected from IDF soldiers puts them in unnecessary danger and leads to more casualties. On the other hand,  others have pointed to the need for strict rules of engagement considering the sensitive nature of many of the IDF’s operations, which involve dealing with a civilian population.

Following Saturday’s incident, the IDF said in a statement that it has begun re-examining its rules of engagement and will issue new policy recommendations aimed at ensuring the safety of Israeli soldiers during riots along the Gaza border.