TEL AVIV — A newspaper expose about a three-year-old tragic military accident is causing headaches for Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, who is widely believed to be appointed Israel's next interior minister.
Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Achronot, said Barak, who retired as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force earlier this year, lied when it accused him of abandoning wounded soldiers during a military training accident.
The report, which prompted a political firestorm in Israel, could put Barak's nomination as interior minister on hold and affect his political future, observers believe.
Vehemently denying the account published July 7, Barak, 53, told reporters: "It is untruthful, distorted, mistaken and very harmful for me and all of the army. It's absurd."
Barak was among three top-level IDF officers who were present at the IDF's Tze'elim training and practice area in the Negev on Nov. 5, 1992, when a military exercise went awry, killing five soldiers and wounding six others.
During the practice operation, a live missile was fired accidentally, causing the fatalities. The accident was subsequently known throughout Israel as Tze'elim-2, because two years earlier another fatal training accident happened at the same location.
A report in the London Sunday Times, published in January 1994, said the exercise was a rehearsal for an operation to assassinate Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
In October 1994, an Israeli military court found two mid-level army officers guilty of negligence in the training accident.
But the court cleared of responsibility Barak and the other two top officers — the recently retired IDF chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, and Maj. Gen. Avraham Levine, who was in charge of the training exercise.
Levine was named the IDF commander in charge of the northern sector, which includes operations in Lebanon, in November.
In its July 7 story, Yediot probed the events that led to the accident, the reaction of the military's top echelon to it at the time and the accident's aftermath.
The article, which painted a grim picture of the IDF's command, alleged misconduct by some of the top commanders present at the incident.
The article said Barak was among those who stood by in stunned paralysis while other generals tried to help the wounded.
The report also alleged that Barak flew off in his helicopter without taking any of the wounded.
The article cast doubt on the army investigation of the training accident, alleging that certain generals kept changing their statements and that at least one of the commanders involved planned a cover-up.
According to the paper, threats and pressure were employed by top army brass to hide or change certain facts and evidence was tampered with. The report also alleged that the officers who stood trial refrained from divulging the whole truth about the incident.