Ya'alon: Proposed IDF Reforms 'A Gamble on the Lives of Israeli Citizens'

Locker committee report suggests sweeping reforms in the military, some of which hit raw nerves in defense establishment.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Locker Committee report on the defense budget, made public on Tuesday, admonished the Israel Defense Forces for excessive spending and lack of transparency, while sharply criticizing the Defense Ministry for acting as the IDF’s rubber stamp instead of its civilian monitor. 

It was immediately condemned by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said if implemented it would put Israel at risk. “The Locker Committee report is superficial, extremely unbalanced and completely disconnected from the reality surrounding the State of Israel and within it,” Ya’alon said on Tuesday.

The report made 53 recommendations for restraining the defense budget, increasing financial transparency, and implementing efficiency measures, personnel cuts and military pension reforms. 

“Sometimes one gets the feeling that the most significant budget [item] of the State of Israel ‘manages itself’ rather than being managed,” according to the report.

“The Defense Ministry accepts the army’s demands at face value and sees itself as the army’s representative to the cabinet,” the report asserts. “The blurring of borders between the Defense Ministry and the IDF doesn’t enable the ministry to fulfill its role as supervisor of the army and monitor. The army and the Defense Ministry are one.”

Ya’alon was particularly disturbed by the report’s proposal to reduce military service for male soldiers to two years.

“The idea of shortening compulsory service to two years is the result of a total lack of understanding of the military apparatus,” he said. He added that the Gideon multiyear plan, a military restructuring initiative announced Monday by Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot, “provides a proper response to the threats and challenges the State of Israel faces. It is effective, balanced and responsible, and that is the plan that should be adopted.”

Other senior officers also reacted strongly, among them IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, who called the report “a bullet between the eyes.” A senior officer in the army’s Personnel Directorate called some of the recommendations “immoral and illegal.” 

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker, who chaired the committee, tried to restore calm. “This committee is not in confrontation with anyone,” he said. “The defense establishment is important to every one of the panel’s members. I have spent all my life as part of the defense establishment, and it is precious to me.” Asked if he thought the report would be implemented, Locker said, “Implementing the committee’s recommendations will contribute to the security of the State of Israel.”

Among the recommendations is for the IDF to establish two main budgets – one for training and one for research and development – and keep these budgets immune from cuts. According to the committee, the halting of training exercises in 2014 for lack of funds was “a systemic failure.”

“We believe this must not happen again,” Locker said yesterday. “Training is the top priority, not at the bottom of the list.”

Another key recommendation regards transparency, with the committee calling for full disclosure of what goes on in the defense establishment a condition for approving the Defense Ministry budget. 

“I think that in 2015 every citizen should know where every shekel goes in every ministry in the State of Israel, including the Defense Ministry, [taking into account] its security limitations,” said Locker. “I don’t think in 2015 I have to explain why transparency is required. In our view it will empower the IDF.”

Since 2008, the number of IDF personnel has increased by 12 percent, and the army has not provided an adequate explanation for this, the committee said. The number of officers at the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel has swelled, leading the committee to say, “The army isn’t always aware of the budgetary consequences of changing the scope of personnel and the service conditions of those in the career army.” It thus calls for giving the treasury the authority to oversee and audit personnel planning. IDF officials claim this will lead to the Finance Ministry taking control over what goes on in the army, which the Locker committee members strenuously deny.

The proposed changes to military pensions, say senior officers, will make it more difficult to keep good officers, who will prefer to move to other security organizations, whether it be the Shin Bet security service, Mossad or Israel Police. The Locker panel acknowledged this possibility, but noted that its mandate was to examine what goes on in the IDF, not in the other security agencies.

The committee said that contrary to the military’s claims that its salaries are “so low they are almost inappropriate given the contribution by career army personnel,” salaries are in fact suitable, and that in some fields which are in less demand, army personnel earn more than in the civilian market. The committee proposes differential salaries with a clear preference for those serving in combat.

The panel also criticized the attitude of the IDF and Defense Ministry toward the National Security Council, saying that both bodies demonstrably ignore the NSC and cooperate with it only when forced.

The committee calls for two-year compulsory service from 2020. Combat soldiers required to serve a third year would, according to the committee, need to be paid “fair and worthy” compensation of at least the minimum wage.

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