Israeli Army Diverts Millions of Shekels Earmarked for Soldiers' Welfare to Innovation Conference

The Israeli military allocated over $10 million for an innovation conference that will host representatives of foreign militaries and security organizations, initiated by Aviv Kochavi ahead of the end of his tenure as chief of staff

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, on Sunday.
Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israeli military has diverted funds meant to improve soldiers’ living conditions for an innovation conference initiated by the army chief, despite public criticism that it is “superfluous and costly.”

The military has allocated 35 million shekels ($10.75 million) for the four-day event, which will be held in September on the occasion of the end of Aviv Kochavi's tenure as Chief of Staff. Most of the money was meant for constructing and renovating soldiers’ quarters on army bases.

Haaretz reported in Hebrew in June that Kochavi had pushed the innovation conference through a tender-exempt process. Invitees include senior officials from foreign militaries and security organizations. The proposal on the Defense Ministry’s website for tenders called for production companies to make bids to run the conference. Organizers would have to arrange to bring in officials from 25 countries and hosting them in hotels.

The event was originally going to involve three days at the Expo compound at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds. On the fourth day, soldiers from a number of units that Kochavi had established would demonstrate their abilities at the Tze’elim army base in southern Israel. Following the report, the military moved the Expo portion to army bases.

Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at his initiation ceremony, in 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

Haaretz has obtained information showing that the change in the event’s character also included redirecting internal funds in order to avoid new tenders or a new tender-exemption process that would reignite widespread public criticism.

One part of the conference will take place at the military college base at Glilot known as Dayan Base. The army allocated around 15 million shekels in order to adapt the place for the event. Five million shekels will go to erecting tents, grandstands, screens, signs and flags. Another five million will go to furniture rental. Over two million will cover flights, hotels and hosting. A further two million shekels has been set aside for official vehicles, domestic flights and halls. Finally, over a million shekels will go to construction within the base needed to host participants.

Training of the multidimensional IDF unit, in 2021.Credit: IDF Spokesperson Unit

Sources familiar with the event’s details remark that Dayan Base is slated for relocation to Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus. After the District Planning Board approved the relocation plan in 2012, the cornerstone for the new base was laid at a ceremony in 2017. The sources wondered why millions of shekels are needed for a base that recently underwent major renovations and is due to be relocated in the coming years.

A totally ostentatious display

Another 20 million shekels are to be spent on adapting Tze’elim base to the needs of the event on the final day. The military is planning to display releasing precision munitions at a high rate from the air or ground and operating attack drones, among other things. A multidimensional unit is expected to display the abilities for which it was built. Sources familiar with the situation say plans to demonstrate an Iron Dome launching were canceled because of safety issues and a fear of endangering air lanes. They think that five million shekels will be allocated for tents, halls and a central stage for a performance and speeches.

The army’s senior command of some 700 officers will meet at Tze’elim on September 12, a day before the conference opens. They will hold a general rehearsal of sorts, holding an exercise similar to the one that will be demonstrated days later. The sources say it is an exceptional event. They estimate the two exercise will cost millions of shekels, with the total expenses for the events at Tze’elim topping 20 million shekels.

Tze’elim army base, in 2021.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Military brass claim that despite the costs, the event signifies military and international importance. They stressed that meetings at the event with foreign representatives are expected to strengthen security and diplomatic ties and grant the Israeli military more legitimacy in times of fighting. They assert the conference’s direct costs are lower than claimed, and that renovations at Dayan Base will have post-conference benefits. Still, they noted there are unique expenses that were diverted from the construction budget solely for the conference and won’t be available afterward.

The military responded: “The statistics appearing in the article are untrue. The total costs have not been calculated and will be tallied in the coming weeks.” It stressed that “the chief of staff ordered a significant cut to the conference budget in meetings on the matter.” It added: “The general staff is doing its utmost to hold the conference in a professional, appropriate and respectful manner while efficiently managing costs. Since the planning stage, the inclination has been to hold it on an army base because it is a military conference and other considerations. After examining all options, it was decided to hold it in Glilot.”

The army stated: “The exercise in Tze’elim was planned as part of a series of pre-planned exercises independent of the conference. The exercise will illustrate for army commanders and conference participants the implementation of operational doctrines. Some of the construction work was planned in advance irrespective of the conference, the goal being to improve the welfare of those serving on base.

The decision to evacuate Dayan Base has yet to be made. If a decision will be made, it will take at least seven years.” It added: “Such international conferences are common in militaries worldwide and constitute a significant tool for deepening cooperation and mutual learning between armies. Holding the conference in Israel will strengthen the military’s capabilities, legitimacy for its actions and increase freedom of operation.”

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