Israeli Army Watchdog: With Insufficient Attention to Oversight, How Will We Win Wars?

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik told a Knesset committee the defense establishment was not paying proper attention to criticism. Committee head said she had come under considerable and “disproportionate” pressure not to hold the session

Israeli military ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik and State Control Committee chair MK Shelly Yacimovich at the Knesset discussion, December 12, 2018.

The army ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, reiterated his call on Wednesday to set up an independent investigative committee to look into deficiencies in the army. Speaking to a session of the State Control Committee, Brik said the defense establishment was not paying proper attention to criticism and in many instances is not acting to correct deficiencies.

According to Brik, while some parts of the report he compiled on the subject has been adopted by the military and taken care of, there is a disparity between the reality on the ground and how the senior ranks of the army present the situation to the country’s political leadership.

“An inferior organizational culture is the core of the problem,” Brik said, adding that if it is not changed, steps taken to rectify specific problems will not work. “Proper attention is not paid to oversight in the defense establishment. How are we going to win wars?” he asked.

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Among the specific problems that Brik noted was difficulty in integrating new weaponry, particularly among reserve soldiers, and the use by soldiers and their commanders of smartphones. He also protested the lack of discipline in all ranks and “commanders who do not show up at their hearings when the violate orders.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), who heads the State Control Committee, opened the committee session by recounting that she had come under considerable and “disproportionate” pressure, as she called it, not to hold the session. There were those, she said, who argued that the session “would hurt soldiers’ moral and the strength of the army,” and added: “It appears as if the enemy is Brik and not Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, the commander of the army’s ground forces, responded to Brik’s criticism, saying facetiously: “I may be mediocre but the brigade commanders are outstanding, and they say they are prepared for war. There are problems. They need to be dealt with. I am in no way ignoring this.” There is major oversight in the army, he asserted, and “over the years, the army has been doing a lot to correct oversight deficiencies.” For instance, he said he’d like to see reserve soldiers practicing more throughout the year.

In June, when he presented the ombudsman’s annual report at a press conference, Brik went public with criticism of the army’s preparedness for war. The report did not include a direct reference to the state of readiness, but Brik hinted that his criticism was related to training, to training exercises and the state of the weaponry used by the ground forces.

Since then, he has issued two detailed letters to then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in which he focused mainly on the army’s manpower policies, describing a serious crisis that he said could have implications relating to the capabilities of the entire army — particularly the ground forces — to fight a war. Brik’s latest report is the third on the issue.

One of Brik’s concerns is that soldiers are buried in their cellphones. Not only does this make meetings and classes less effective, but “soldiers even guard at the border with their phones, and commanders don’t enforce the rules,” he has said in the past. “This is also what will happen in wartime, and the result will be that the units’ location will be in the enemy’s hands.”

For his part, Gordin invited Brik to tour the units dealing with emergency supplies anywhere in the country, “even tomorrow at 7:30 in the morning.” Yacimovich took up the offer herself, saying that the members of her committee would make such a visit.

Knesset member Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union), a reserve major general himself whom once had Brik as his commander, said he holds Brik in high esteem, but then leveled criticism at his former commander. “The public’s confidence in the army is important. I am not against oversight, but there is a limit. You have crossed the line. You have gone from [providing] a major benefit to damaging. You have gone from a fine and respected figure to an unwanted one.”

MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) also criticized Brik, saying the confrontation his criticism has caused is harming Israel’s deterrence. MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) said to Brik: “You’ve put me in a situation where if I’m with you I’m against them [the military].”

However, Nahmias-Verbin, Ben Ari and MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) all praised Brik’s work. Cabel said he “agrees with almost every single word” Brik wrote.

Brik said in response that he “insists” on everything he’s said. He rejected the claim that talking about these issues harms deterrence, saying “we need to deal with out capabilities, not our image.”

The army’s comptroller, Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari, is expected to submit a report to army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in the coming days with conclusions following an evaluation by his office made of several army divisions following criticism leveled by Brik.