The Profligate Israeli Army Will Fight Criticism With Every Weapon It Has

It’s no secret the military doesn’t want to slim down, as recommended by the Locker report. It made sure it had time to prepare for the battle.

Tomer Appelbaum

A few weeks ago The Marker hosted a brigadier general. His driver waited outside in the minivan, and the general entered the hall with three woman officers and one woman soldier.

The officers’ jobs during the lecture were thus: One held the general’s cellphone, one was responsible for the slides during his presentation, and one filled his glass with water. The soldier didn’t have any special mission for those two hours.

A week after the general visited, the same lecture hall hosted the head of the Government Companies Authority, Uri Yogev. He’s responsible for 79 government companies, some of them the country’s largest and most important firms. Together they employ 60,000 people, their assets are worth 178 billion shekels ($46.8 billion) and their annual revenues reach 67 billion shekels.

Yogev arrived without a driver but with one aide, who didn’t click on the slides and didn’t pour any water. He only helped when Yogev needed to be reminded about certain numbers.

This picture might have been on the minds of the people who wrote the Locker report on reforming the Israel Defense Forces. Very quickly, those experts have become the enemies of Israel, as if they had written another Goldstone report — two reserve generals, two professors, a retired police general, a former corporate CEO and two former executives of large financial institutions.

And who made them enemies? Senior IDF officers, who said at least on two occasions (one of which was public, by the IDF spokesman) that the report was “a shot between the IDF’s eyes.”

This quote has also been the main headline in the newspaper Israel Hayom, the mouthpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is the one who set up the committee and named as its chairman his former military secretary, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker. Locker is also the brother of the outgoing director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker.

Netanyahu gave the committee a huge mandate. Still, his newspaper joined the battle to try to quash the report. That’s just the second thing that’s suspicious about Netanyahu in this affair. The first is that he hasn’t made any public comments about the report and has left Locker alone in the fight.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has responded only in writing — and that response was weak and disappointing. And it can’t be said Kahlon and Netanyahu were taken by surprise. They had two weeks to study the report and prepare their statements before the report was released. But instead of responding, they let the IDF and Defense Ministry soften the enemy up.

A good plan for Switzerland

So why wasn’t the report released before this week? To let the IDF win. Netanyahu gave in to the pressure from the IDF and delayed publication by two weeks, to let the IDF prepare for the war.

The first stage was a letter from Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to the troops, which was published in the press even before it was sent to the soldiers. Later, a day before the report’s official publication, the major websites came out with big headlines about the “Eisenkot reforms” — the multiyear plan named Gideon that also includes cutbacks.

This week the newspapers have been packed with headlines and quotes against Locker and his report. Almost all the pundits are writing that the document will wind up in the trash, that it’s crazy, maybe appropriate for Switzerland or the cafes on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, as one smart aleck wrote.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon could of course not be expected to give Locker any backup. Ya’alon has come out in full force against him, saying the report is superficial and disconnected from reality. As Ya’alon and top officers have put it, we have to keep the best officers in the military, and their salaries and retirement conditions are what keep them there.

So a question: Have studies been done to see if promises of early retirement with tons of money are really what keep young people in the military? How do organizations that don’t provide such cozy perks keep their best employees? The IDF has no answers.

The IDF’s battle against Locker in recent days includes briefings for reporters and editors by very senior officers. According to the IDF Spokesman’s Office, these briefings “were planned in advance” in order to present the IDF’s multiyear plan.

Just by chance, the meetings took place the very same day the Locker report was released. “But we didn’t want to take steal his thunder,” is what some officers are saying. This of course isn’t the truth because the invitations to the media were sent out this week.

At one briefing, a senior officer apologized for the phrase “a shot between the eyes.” “I apologize, I didn’t want to hurt Yohanan, he’s a friend,” the officer said. When he was asked if this apology was on the record, an officer sitting next to him said everything in the briefing was “deep background.”

So Locker might be a friend, but immediately after the apology he took another barb from the officer, who noted how Locker had never sat in the General Staff’s decision-making room. And he said Locker had little criticism for the air force, where Locker had been a combat navigator.

Streamlining will happen

We’ll read about other such barbs, and also about the alleged insufficient hours Locker dedicated to discussions on the report. And the IDF has other claims; for example, that there's no way to implement the report because of its inherent discrimination — and of course the claim that the report is a gamble with the lives of Israelis.

There’s no doubt the IDF will fight the document with all the weapons it has, like the way it fought during last year’s controversy about the Hannibal Directive, when it was feared a soldier had been abducted by Hamas during the Gaza war.

One commentator has written that the Locker committee refused to meet with Eisenkot since it was appointed. The truth is a bit different. More than once, Eisenkot appeared before the committee when he was deputy chief of staff. Locker met one-on-one with Eisenkot three or four times.

His predecessor, Benny Gantz, also appeared before the committee, as did the director general of the Defense Ministry, Dan Harel. So did Ya’alon and a number of generals.

When the report was completed the committee phoned to set a time with Eisenkot to present the report, but when he realized it wasn’t a draft that could still be influenced, he gave the meeting a miss. Yes, the IDF is more used to dictating policy and less used to democratic behavior.

“They didn’t consult with us when they wrote the report,” members of the General Staff have been saying, using those words or similar ones. Some mentioned the old Jewish saying: You don’t consult with the carp on how to set the Passover table.

Will this report really be thrown in the trash? Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin have given Locker important backing by saying they would support the committee’s recommendations because they’re good for the country.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay went head-to-head with Ya’alon when he wrote: “A shocking response from the Defense Minister. If they invested in improvements and efficiencies half the energy they spend on raising resources, we wouldn’t need committees.”

But that’s not enough. Only Kahlon and Netanyahu can put the report into action.

Either way, the IDF of the next few years will become more efficient. Eisenkot is well aware of the public criticism of the IDF. He already has cut spending on entertainment (“Under me we won’t spend a shekel for a singer”) and farewell parties (“Only on the grass with a military troupe”).

We’ve received an answer to an important question: Eisenkot has seen the movie “Zero Motivation,” a comedy about women soldiers in the IDF. That’s why deep down he’s already aware that the army takes public funds for granted.