A regular ritual has developed around reports from the state comptroller on the subject of defense matters. The state comptroller bestows the report on the Knesset Speaker in a formal ceremony, on the same day the media cite the main findings - and that's it. Although the Israel Defense Forces promises to take the recommendations seriously, in most cases it just ignores them. And then, for its part, the Knesset State Control Committee discharges its obligations in a perfunctory discussion.
This is a pity, for two reasons. First, a large part of the state comptroller's reports on the defense system are instructive, thorough and important. Second, if the army were actually to follow through and fix the flaws addressed in the report, it could well prevent future blunders and waste. Instead, if one reads through the annual reports in a consecutive manner, he's in for a frustrating experience. There, one will find that the comptroller keeps returning to the same problems, which remain unsolved from one year to the next.
In this respect, the report published some two weeks ago is no different. The difference between it and its predecessors lies in that it does not warn of potential failures, but rather analyzes the shortcomings that were discovered in IDF actions during the Second Lebanon War. This is not a theoretical discussion of what could happen to the army, but rather a practical analysis of what has already occurred.
This time the comptroller has examined the readiness of the reserve system in the ground forces, as well as the IDF's preparedness in the area of weapons stores. Reading the report raises disturbing questions.
"In 2002, the extent of the training maneuvers carried out was on average 20 percent smaller than what had been planned," writes the comptroller. "In 2003, training maneuvers were significantly smaller in scale than they had been the preceding year. In the years 2004-2006, the ground forces command did not meet the necessary quota of maneuvers... Ultimately there were battalions that did not carry out full-scale maneuvers with live fire over the course of four or five years."
Even when it becomes clear to IDF commanders that some of its units are not fit, it's not a cause for particular distress: "In June 2001, data on the fitness of all of the battalions were presented in the General Staff forum... Significant gaps emerged in the fitness of the battalions that had been examined. It was not found that the authorities in the ground forces command or in the General Staff discussed a plan to bring them up to the necessary level of fitness." And, as in the period that preceded the Yom Kippur War, emergency stores too were neglected: "The manpower standard for maintaining supplies in the quartermaster's stores, in one of the divisions that were examined in this check, was reduced in the years 2000 to 2006 by approximately 58 percent. In all four of the divisions that were checked, many of the manpower slots for soldiers had not been filled."
In the storehouses themselves, ammunition, vehicles and materiel were in short supply. Thus, "in a tank brigade of a certain division" only half of the night-vision equipment required by tank commanders was present. The comptroller also found that by the end of 2005 all of the emergency medical equipment of the army's reserve units was past its date. In certain cases, it was found that the army had equipped itself with only one-third of the amount of ammunition set by the standard, but "at the General Staff there is no procedure for analyzing the operational consequences of under-equipping, relative to the goals of a deployment, including analysis of the effect of this shortage on the ability to carry out the operational plans."
"During the war, there was a shortage of certain defensive equipment, and this imposed severe limitations on force deployment," the comptroller reveals. "From an examination of the emergency stores of atomic, biological and chemical items that have expiration dates, it emerged that at the end of 2006, the overall proportion of items that were still valid in the IDF constituted about 65 percent, on average, of the set standard, and in the case of a particular defense item, the proportion in stock was 4.5 percent of what is required by the standard."
Saddest of all is that had they related seriously to earlier reports of the state comptroller, it might well have been possible to prevent some of these failings. Reading the report published in August 2005, and then the one that came out about seven months before the Lebanon War, is enough to make one nauseous. One finds in them detailed descriptions of an insufficient number of maneuvers, of neglect of emergency stores, of shortcomings in the training of commanders, and of replenishing of stocks that was not up to standard. Regrettably, it appears that even now, after the IDF's poor showing in that war, the attitude toward the reports has not changed.
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