A Once-in-a-lifetime Makeover of the Israeli Army?

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Israel Defense Forces troops: 60% of career soldiers retire with pensions worth $1-2 million, five times the norm.Credit: Reuters

Israel's army may be headed for a drastic makeover. If the 53 recommendations proposed by the Locker report on military reforms are implemented, the defense structure will be overhauled like never before. The proposed refits include reforming the budget, efficiency measures, and  structural changes.

“The military budgeting process and its management are faulty at every level and in a number of aspects,” says the report by the Locker committee, a panel led by a former military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yohanan Locker.

“There is a daily battle over scope instead of multiyear funding ... and systematic work based on a plan,” the report says, adding that too many decisions are made ad hoc.

Moreover, once work plans are crafted by the Israel Defense Forces, any subsequent changes by politicians are minor, the report says. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry’s scrutiny of the IDF’s plans is limited because the ministry does not believe it is tasked with providing civilian oversight. Instead, it views its job as defending the army’s interests.

The report was made public Tuesday and was sent to Netanyahu, who had set up the panel, two weeks earlier. It has also been sent to Finance Ministry and Defense Ministry officials, as well as to other senior defense officials.

Meetings will be held in the coming weeks at the Prime Minister’s Office and at the two ministries on implementing the recommendations. Due to the differences of opinion between the defense and finance ministries over the report, it appears that some issues will have to be settled by Netanyahu.

The following are key highlights.

The military budget
The defense budget for the next five years is at the core of the recommendations. The 2016 defense budget would be 59 billion shekels ($15.5 billion) for a budget not to be supplemented during the year.

The annual military budgets for 2017 through 2020 would be the same as for 2016, but would be adjusted for inflation. For the next five years, the budgets would also include other spending that would be conditioned on income that the IDF derives from selling weapons systems and equipment.

The military would also undertake efficiency measures that the committee projects would spur savings of 9.6 billion shekels over the next five years. This would remain at the IDF’s disposal to fund priority needs.

The Finance Ministry, however, is against a 2016 defense budget topping 54 billion shekels, 5 billion less than the Locker committee proposes. Meanwhile, the defense establishment seeks a budget next year of at least 62 billion shekels.

Personnel cuts
The committee has recommended a major cut in military staffing; there would also be a 14 percent reduction in spending on wages by the end of 2017. Pay scales would be flexible based on the army’s needs.

Ending ‘bridge pensions’
Pension payments to career soldiers from the time they leave the army until they reach retirement age would be limited to soldiers who spent their entire military career in a combat unit. All other soldiers would receive a sizable severance payment.

Only two years of compulsory service
By 2020, both men and women would be doing compulsory military service of two years, cutting men’s service by many months.

Increased U.S. financial aid
Israel should consider requesting an increase in U.S. military aid, currently at $3.1 billion annually. This stems from the many threats facing the country and the need to maintain a qualitative military advantage. It also comes against the backdrop of discussions on extending the assistance beyond 2018.

‘Civilianizing’ functions
Entire segments of defense operations would be staffed by civilians, so that soldiers and officers could concentrate on core functions.

There would be full transparency regarding dealings with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the National Security Council.

Changes at the Defense Ministry
The Defense Ministry would supervise the IDF in every aspect of its operations. As a result, the ministry would be restructured to eliminate duplicate functions with counterparts in the IDF.

The cabinet would establish a team led by the National Security Council to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. It would occasionally report to the cabinet and public on whether the proposals were being carried out.

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