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There are 2,700 senior officers in the career army, nearly 600 more than are officially supposed to be serving: some 470 colonels, some 100 brigadiers, 22 major generals and one chief of staff. If the average cost of one career officer - a little bit of sergeant, of major and of chief of staff - comes to some NIS 300,000 a year, obviously the cost of senior officers in salaries, benefits, taxes and pensions adds up to more than NIS 1 billion a year. Cutting the number of officers in the staffs of the senior commands - for example, moving from a corps to a division as the basic building block of the army - would yield tremendous savings.

The senior officers are selected via the internal process of a closed sect, headed by the chief of staff and the previous chief of staff. External committees, including civilians, only have a say regarding the candidates for two positions - president of the military court of appeals and the commander of Army Radio, who apparently are more crucial to the fate of the country than the commander of the air force, military intelligence or a command general. The board of governors of the gas company, or the management of the railroad, have more stringent rules of acceptance than the general staff. As retired general Yisrael Tal said years ago, in the competition for every senior position in the army, the three best candidates show up as the finalists, and then worst of the three gets chosen.

What's good for the organization, in terms of the creative usefulness that the officer provided on the medium rungs of the ladder, stops being useful and starts being threatening when it becomes possible that the man will reach the top of the organization, grab it by the ears and start shaking.

Just as a prisoner doesn't let himself out of the brig, neither does an armed officer break that mold, which dumbs down the army and is contributing to its degeneration. Therefore, external leadership is required, to impose a different management on the army. The difficulty is to isolate the external, civilian and political leadership from its natural dependency on the corruption that is the source of its political authority.

The fear of over-concentration of power in the hands of a single politician made the members of the government headed by David Ben-Gurion during the War of Independence deny him the authority to make military appointments. The ministers raised the level of the defense minister's ability to make appointments from lieutenant colonels, and later colonels, and up, in exchange for the government keeping out of it.

That was a reasonable compromise for Ben-Gurion's time, but it needs to be smashed now, in the days of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minster Shaul Mofaz and their obedient chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon. Their absolute and exclusive control of the most important resources in the army's hands - money and people - must be taken away from them.

Very belatedly, and only when the ax of the budget cuts was on its neck, did the army begin implementing plans, including some old ones, to make its handling of manpower more efficient. The structural problem remains, because the minute the framework of the budget and the number of positions it can fill are set, the army plays with those numbers any way it wants. The defense establishment is crying out for a thorough housecleaning and structural change that would eliminate all the redundancies and myriad bureaucracies - and that's true for both the army and the Defense Ministry. That's why a real defense minister is needed.

In the absence of one, a reasonable start could be imposing a new regime - like making the formation of the military budget the joint work of the general staff, the Defense Ministry and treasury, as it was in the 1970s, and to establish a subcommittee in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to approve senior appointments.

Those authorized to supervise the secret services and the nuclear reactor should also monitor the appointments in the senior levels of the army, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the police. And if the political affiliation of the MKs is so frightening to that other politician, the defense minister, a committee headed by a retired justice could be formed, like the Bach Committee for the appointment of an attorney general, to examine the qualifications of the candidates for chief of staff and the minister and to hear reservations and arguments against the candidates. The military establishment will mutter and grumble, but it is adaptable and will quickly accept the new situation and its demands.