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What was he thinking? Soldier's assault leaves Israelis angry, embarrassed

Israeli army Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner (2nd L) uses his M-16 rifle to strike Danish pro-Palestinian protester Andreas Las during a protest near the West Bank city of Jericho, in this frame grab from a video taken April 14, 2012 by Nablus TV.

REUTERS/Baker Abd el Haqq/Nablus TV/Handout/REUTERS/Baker Abd el Haqq/Nablus TV/Handout

What was he thinking? That's what many people want to know.

When Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner rammed his rifle into the face of Danish protester Andreas Ias last weekend, he unleashed a fury of criticism of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), mostly by embarrassed Israelis, and bolstered the international campaign against Israeli policies and practices toward Palestinians.

Images of the officer turning his M-16 on its side, then thrusting its sharply curved magazine first into the face of the cyclist who stood before him were recorded by the International Solidarity Movement that organized the event and quickly posted on the Internet for all to see.

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Even Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the officer's act, based largely on the shocking video and before any official inquiry had been conducted.

It was no surprise that the army did what it had to do today (Wednesday) and dismissed the 20-year veteran from his post as Deputy Division Commander, though not from the army itself. He will retain his rank but be barred from any command positions for two years. And he still faces a military police investigation and possible charges.

The incident happened Saturday as about 200 protesters prepared to ride their bicycles on Route 90, the main North-South road in the Jordan Valley, an area occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and now home to several Israeli settlements and large date-palm plantations. The IDF's task was to prevent this from happening.

For his part, Lt. Col. Eisner showed no remorse for his action.

"It was a two-minute confrontation," he was heard to say on Israeli television Tuesday night. "So, it's true that a few photos there look bad, but at the end of the day, I used the rifle as a cold weapon, as a club. I didn't kill anyone and didn't risk anyone's life in order to carry out my mission and prevent harm to my soldiers."

The officer, himself, was treated for a fractured finger that, he said, occurred when the protesters attacked him and his troops with sticks.

Such accounts, not on video, "do not interest the [IDF's]Chief of Staff or my commander," Lt. Col. Eisner said, derisively. The officer added that he does not accept the idea that his action was a moral failure on his part.

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"We know the history of these anarchists," he said. "They came with sticks and broke my hand, but no one will tell or film that."

"There is a question here of what is more important: carrying out the mission or looking good on camera? I claim the mission is important enough," Lt. Col. Eisner said. "What if they filmed IDF soldiers backing down from an angry crowd? That sounds good? Should I let them block roads? Should I let them endanger lives?"

Mr. Ias, the injured 20-year-old demonstrator, denied there had been any violent assault on the soldiers and, it must be said, the broken finger did not appear to impede Lt. Col. Eisner in wielding his weapon as a club.

The bicycle protest was timed to preface the arrival of hundreds of mostly European activists who planned to fly into Israel Sunday, demonstrating their opposition to Israeli policy towards Palestinians. Israel's response to that so-called "flytilla" was to mobilize a vast number of security forces to head off the event.

While Israeli intelligence and the pressure of the Israeli government on foreign governments and airlines were successful in barring many protesters from even boarding their flights to Israel (along with several innocent travellers who had nothing to do with the protest), Lt. Col. Eisner's action made the Israeli occupation and the tactics of its forces more of a story than the flytilla protest that fell well short of expectations.

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