Israeli Army Scraps Training for Reservists Due to Budget Cuts

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An IDF reserve division in training, December 12, 2017.
An IDF reserve division in training, December 12, 2017.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The Israeli military has notified various reserve divisions, including elite ground force units, that it will be halting their training exercises until the end of the year due to budgetary concerns. On Monday, senior reserves officers were told that training would end, including exercises planned for divisions that are supposed to spearhead combat on the southern and northern fronts.

This also includes a large-scale drill carried out in recent years that prepares forces in the field and on the homefront for war and missile strikes. IDF sources claim that the cancellation is the result of changes instituted by new Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who took office in January, as well as uncertainties regarding the next budget.

Because of these cancellations, reservists in one division of the IDF's Northern Command will not train at all this year. Some units decided that only senior commanders would participate in exercises. And reservists in the Artillery Corps were recently notified that the artillery battery training planned for September has been scrapped.

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The IDF Spokesperson's Unit responded to the reports, saying: "Following an assessment of resources, the chief of the Ground Forces Command decided to cancel a limited number of drills from the end of its work plan for 2019. The vast majority of the exercises that were planned will be taking place."

The statement added that as part of a program to increase readiness for a campaign in the Gaza Strip, the army added new exercises that were not included in the annual work plan. It also stated that "an additional sum of money has been added for the acquisition of further combat capabilities for field units."

One officer in the reserves, though, was told that training has been canceled until the end of the year due to "budgetary problems connected to the fact that there's no government," he told Haaretz. The  Knesset election in April did not result in the formation of a new coalition government, and new elections are scheduled for September 17.

Army sources claim that decisions made by Kochavi upon taking office, which led to overspending, as well as the absence of a budget plan for the next five years, led to the cancellations. In recent weeks, the Ground Forces Command reviewed the training budget for the balance of the year and found that preparations that Kochavi had ordered for a future war in Gaza had cost much more than anticipated. The cost of the operation had not been taken into account in the existing budget and as a result, changes were demanded in the annual training plan.

The Ground Forces Command decided for which units to cancel drills based on the assumption that it would not affect the units' preparedness for war. At the same time, army sources claim that despite the announcements of cancellations sent to reservists, the previously-planned large-scale drill would in fact take place, if only partially.

Army sources estimate that the cancellation of about 6 percent of the exercises, mostly for reservists, will save tens of millions of shekels that will be allocated to higher-priority concerns. But high-ranking reservists have warned that this decision will bring negative consequences, with some telling Haaretz that their units have not held training exercises this year - a development that this is lowering the operational preparedness of the combat brigades.

"It just isn't clear to us what's behind this decision," said one senior source who serves in the north. "There should be a budget until the end of 2019, even without the new budget. In recent years, we've been preparing for significant scenarios that could develop in the north, and a year without a significant exercise that would link the forces could gravely affect the army's readiness for the next battle," he added.

The previous chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, signed a five-year budget in 2015. After taking office, Kochavi asked to shorten it by one year, so that he could adapt the army's budget for the coming years to his operational outlook. The Finance Ministry acceded to the request, but said Kochavi would be required to make cuts, in part by shortening the duration of compulsory army service and by reducing or eliminating the so-called bridge pensions that retiring career soldier have been receiving.

The current budget is due to expire in 2020. As a result of the two election campaigns this year, the next five-year budget has not yet been approved. If it is not approved before the beginning of 2020, defense spending will be based on month-to-month budgeting, which may make long-term planning more difficult.

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