Last week Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon flew to his daughter’s wedding, in Kibbutz Grofit, in the Arava, in an army helicopter. He was making private use of a national resource costing thousands of defense-budget shekels.
Ya’alon is not the first defense minister to use Israel Defense Forces aircraft for personal use. He is still a far cry from the record set by Moshe Dayan, who used helicopters − and soldiers − to loot antiquities. In any case this blurring of the lines between right and wrong, state-owned and private, is foreboding.
Ya’alon, whose supporters set up a group dubbed “Integrity” to back him, waited eight years for payback after being robbed of a fourth year as IDF chief of staff. But he did not forget how the top brass behaves.
He is not a supreme chief of staff, but woe betide the chief of staff who denies him a chopper for a wedding. The general staff officers learned their lesson from the disputes between Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi, and know it is better to be obsequious than brazen.
The army’s willingness to meet a private request from the minister in charge is troubling. The minister’s office contacts the chief of staff’s office, which issues an instruction to the operations division, which orders the Israel Air Force’s control post to provide a helicopter. In this entire chain of command not one officer utters a word of protest. Everyone salutes and rushes to satisfy the whim instead of placing the good of the army and the state good above future promotion considerations or work relations.
The air force is struggling with limitations imposed on flight hours. The old excuse of using administrative flights for training or maintaining airworthiness has long been refuted. There is no justification for giving the defense minister an advantage over the education or social affairs ministers, when they want to travel to distant family events, merely because the chief of staff is at the former’s beck and call and has a helicopter fleet at his disposal.
Even if it’s difficult to prevent a politician − not to mention a defense minister − from demanding a helicopter, the army must insist on clear criteria in allocating its resources and stick to them. A helicopter is not a private resource.
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