Analysis

Israeli Army Should Thank Its Watchdog for Forcing It to Do Some Housecleaning

Despite the campaign being waged against Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, most of his criticisms of the Israeli army had merit

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik during a Knesset committee hearing, December 12, 2018.

After months of clashes between the Israel Defense Forces Ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, and senior officers, the Knesset has finally begun discussing Brik’s allegations. And thanks to the live broadcast of Wednesday’s session, online and on the Knesset Channel, the public could also weigh the arguments of both sides.

The one who finally picked up the gauntlet wasn’t the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, with which Brik has maintained an intensive correspondence recently, but the chairwoman of the State Control Committee, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union).

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Yacimovich ran the meeting assertively, giving Brik the platform he needed to present his claims. But even there, some committee members (mainly, for some reason, opposition lawmakers), presumably confused about their job, behaved as if their main role was to discipline the 70-year-old war hero.

And instead of confronting the officers who were dispatched to the session as representatives of the army with Brik’s charges, some of the MKs opted instead to give lengthy descriptions of their own military service and that of their relatives and declare their love for the army.

Over the course of his dispute with the IDF, Brik has painted himself into a corner that he had trouble getting out of Wednesday. His refusal to cooperate with the steering committee set up by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen.Gadi Eisenkot, his demand for an independent inquiry and his gloomy prophecies about what will happen if war breaks out created significant resistance.

Nevertheless, it was hard to avoid noticing that a well-planned campaign was being waged against him, in which MKs — including retired generals — volunteered to attack Brik by any means possible in an effort to erode his public credibility. On the not-unreasonable assumption that at least some of Brik’s claims are correct, and that this would become clear if war were to break out, the assault on him may yet boomerang on its planners and executors.

The General Staff claims that its dispute with Brik is substantive, not personal. But Yacimovich correctly noted that everything here is essentially personal. Eisenkot, in the waning days of his term, has been forced to defend his legacy against unexpected public criticism. And Brik has been deeply hurt by the IDF’s alienated attitude, given that until just a few months ago he had treated it with all due respect.

Nevertheless, the allegations themselves deserve to be examined seriously. Even if Brik occasionally sounded Wednesday as if he were being dragged into making overly sweeping conclusions, much of what he said has merit — about the army’s flawed organizational culture, poor discipline, the fact that in some units, noncommissioned officers are afraid to tell their superiors the truth, and the difficulties in assimilating new weaponry into reserve units.

Even though most of the headlines about Brik’s remarks related to his warning that the army was ill-prepared for war, his most important criticism may have been about the quality of the army’s manpower. On this issue, the army faces a real crisis (which Haaretz has reported on repeatedly in the past three years). Only recently has it begun digesting the severity of this crisis, thanks in part to Brik’s decision to make the facts public.

To the army’s credit, it is now studying Brik’s allegations more thoroughly, even if belatedly. Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, chief of the Ground Forces Command, responded to them in detail at Wednesday’s session.

In addition, after a long hiatus, Brik is expected to meet Thursday with IDF comptroller, Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari, who is due to submit to Eisenkot his conclusions from an audit of several army divisions.

A separate report by the Knesset subcommittee on the IDF’s preparedness, headed by MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), is also being finalized. Its report is expected to refute some of Brik’s claims.

And in about 10 days, Eisenkot will meet with the steering committee he appointed, chaired by reserve majors general Avi Mizrahi and Doron Almog, so they can submit their own recommendations to him. It’s a flood of reports, from which one most hope something useful will come.

Ultimately, Brik’s radical and unprecedented moves succeeded in shaking up the army and forcing it to do some housecleaning, even if his style upset certain MKs and media advisors. When the dust settles, the IDF will owe the outgoing ombudsman a debt of gratitude.

Toward the end of Wednesday’s session, Yacimovich summed up the issue succinctly: No one has ever died from a little criticism.