A surprise inspection last week of the 460th Armored Brigade, the training brigade of the Israel Defense Forces’ Armored Corps, revealed flaws in the unit’s readiness, base infrastructure and service conditions. In an unusual move, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman participated in the inspection and demanded explanations from senior officers.
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The most recent military ombudsman’s report, issued in May, contained a detailed review of a visit to the Armored Corps School, the 460th Brigade’s training base. The report did not mention the school, at the Shizafon base in southern Israel, by name.
The report cited faulty maintenance of hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers and logistical vehicles, an excessive burden on the base’s logistical array and assignments in the career army left unfilled. Lieberman decided to see the situation for himself and ordered the defense establishment’s comptroller, Col. (res.) Hagai Tannenbaum-Erez, to send his staff to conduct a surprise inspection.
The army knew there was going to be an inspection of one of the training bases, and some officials expressed concern, saying that surprise inspections were the job of the IDF’s comptroller, not the defense establishment’s comptroller. The former reports to the chief of staff and conducts such inspections regularly. Lieberman insisted on conducting the inspection as planned.
Last week a team of some 20 senior reserve duty officers spent two days at Shizafon. Lieberman joined them for several hours on the second day. The team found, for example, that despite persistent complaints from soldiers the electrical system for the base’s air conditioners went unrepaired; as a result, many soldiers slept outside because their rooms were unbearably hot. Inspections of the kitchens found roaches and poor sanitary conditions.
Soldiers and junior commanders who met with the inspection team told of frequent mechanical problems with the Merkava tanks because of faulty maintenance, to the extent that they were losing confidence in the tanks. Noncommissioned officers on the maintenance team complained of an “impossible” volume of work.
When a mock call-up was conducted of a small force to one of the operational areas where the brigade might be called in an emergency, various logistical problems delayed the deployment beyond the established timetable. After the inspection, Lieberman met with senior officers, demanded explanations, and requested a report on the corrective measures taken within a few months.
The inspection sent shudders through the senior IDF brass in recent days, both because of the unusual involvement of the defense controller and the minister and the serious problems that were revealed.
This inspection could have long-term ramifications if it turns out to reflect a larger problem regarding the readiness of the IDF’s armored vehicles and units for war.
To date Lieberman hasn’t gotten very involved in IDF operational issues, certainly compared to his predecessors Moshe Ya’alon and Ehud Barak, who were both former chiefs of staff.
This latest move by Lieberman indicates the importance he ascribes to battle readiness, but to his image as someone keeping tabs on the IDF and making sure it fulfills its commitments.
Lieberman’s decision to join the inspection at Shizafon made members of the general staff uncomfortable, but the move could spur other oversight bodies, such as the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to get more involved in assuring readiness for war.