Israeli Military Watchdog Warns: IDF in Crisis, Best Career Officers Leaving

Report cites inadequate training and maintenance, points to shortening of compulsory service and new promotion system

Yaniv Kubovich
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Illustration, IDF soldiers
Illustration, IDF soldiersCredit: Ariel Schalit / AP
Yaniv Kubovich

The army is facing a serious crisis due to its inability to retain high-quality officers, the Israel Defense Forces ombudsman wrote in his annual report Monday.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik devoted an entire chapter of his report to this problem, noting that many junior officers don’t want to stay in the career army.

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This is especially true in technology units, he said, warning that the departure of high-quality young officers “has damaged the army’s knowledge base, which is hard to repair.” But the problem is also severe among both commissioned and noncommissioned officers in the medical, ordnance, logistics, education and intelligence corps.

The result, Brik said, is that “those who remain aren’t necessarily the best, the ones the army thought were right for it.”

Brik ascribed much of the blame for the high attrition rate among qualified career officers to the uncertainty caused by a new promotion structure, under which any officer who is not promoted to lieutenant colonel after 14 years must leave. Many officers fear being discharged booted out at this juncture, when they are too old to easily enter the civilian job market but too young to retire.

“The new career army model leads officers to leave the army after serving as company commanders,” Brik said. “Surveys within the army show that 50 percent of officers don’t advise their relatives to sign on for long stints in the career army.”

Brik was also critical of the quality of training given reservists. “There are more exercises than in the past, but the quality of these exercises has declined in the reserve system,” he said, noting that this is especially important because reservists constitute the bulk of the army’s fighting force in wartime.

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Moreover, he said, the army’s multiyear plan has slashed the ground forces too deeply, with the result being “that the volume of tasks assigned to officers exceed the human resources at their disposal.”

Brik also faulted the army on its equipment maintenance. This problem is especially severe in reserve units, he said, noting that at one major training base, a civilian contractor had been hired to clean reservists’ weapons after an exercise. “Soldiers who don’t care for their personal equipment properly in normal times won’t know how to do this during an emergency,” he warned.

Brik received 7,002 written complaints from soldiers in 2007, up from 6,758 the previous year. These complaints, he said, reveal that commanders, even senior ones, often treat subordinates in a hurtful, contemptuous and racist manner.

This problem is compounded by the growing use of cellphones and email to deliver orders, he said, because this undermines interpersonal relations. “There are commanders who give up on direct conversation with their subordinates and send messages to their cellphones, sometimes even when they’re within arm’s reach,” he said.

This excessive use of email also leads to orders not being carried out, Brik said, because “the quantity of emails a senior officer receives ... is so great that some simply get erased without being dealt with and the orders aren’t implemented.”

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