The Economic Speech Eisenkot Should Give

If the future IDF chief of staff wants to show he understands the fundamental problems facing the Israeli army, he must tell us about his plan to address pensions, salaries and rehabilitation costs.

Ofer Vaknin

Here is a speech I drafted for new Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the one I wish he would give...

“I want to thank the prime minister, defense minister and present chief of staff for their trust – and all the rest of you for your congratulations, flowers, kisses and compliments. But time is short, the crisis is great and I want to get straight to work.

“Only three months ago, we embarked on a long and hard war that claimed 72 lives and left more than 2,000 wounded. The civilian population was hit hard economically, and still many children are afraid when they go to sleep at night. And I won’t even mention the ruined summer vacations for so many.

“I heard they are making fun of the interview Niv Raskin did with my beloved mother on Army Radio. But I at least want to echo the hope she expressed in the interview, hope that, to my regret, has become a bit out-of-bounds in recent years in Israel – without wars and with peace. If only it were.

“I want to say that I feel a bit uncomfortable with the way the IDF has learned its lessons from Operation Protective Edge. The first thing we did was to run and ask for more money. Even before we started to look at what happened, where we made mistakes, how and whether we achieved the goals we set for ourselves, what we did right and what not, why we fired so much ammunition, why there was no protection for soldiers in the staging areas, how we reached such a crisis of trust with the border communities near the Gaza Strip, and whether we could have caused less damage to the civilian population – before all that, we have already sent in a request to the government for tens of billions more.

“Even bringing in the old armored personnel carriers to Shujaiyeh on the first night of the fighting – a mistake that cost soldiers their lives – we rushed to justify with ‘a lack of budget.’ I would like any discussion of the defense budget during my term not to be just about how much more money we can get, but also what we do with that money.

“I promise that, during my tenure, the IDF will not heat up the area for no reason, using military correspondents every time it comes to discuss the defense budget. The budget debate will not spill into recycled headlines about the Iranian nuclear threat. The IDF spokesman will not send journalists old pictures of Hezbollah, and the commander of the Israel Air Force will not whine on the 8 P.M. news that his planes are older than the reporters’ cars the second after we’ve signed a multibillion dollar deal to buy the combat plane of the future, the F-35.

“During my term there will be no ‘Italian’ slowdown strike. And no senior defense source will leak to the media against the “finance minister who is harming national security” when he asks us to keep within a budget that the Knesset has already approved.

Where does the defense budget really go?

“Yes, Moshe Ya’alon and Benny Gantz are right, we have a serious budgetary problem that harms national security. Even though Benjamin Netanyahu said, ‘We will provide many billions,’ there is not and will not be enough money for training, equipment and preserving the readiness of the reserve forces. I expect that sometimes we will find ourselves almost facing bankruptcy. The problem is that the debate on the matter here is too superficial. It is possible that we are the guilty ones in this, it is possible we don’t explain ourselves well enough. And so I want to make it clear to the public, the problem is that a huge part of the IDF budget goes toward salaries of the career army, toward pensions and the rehabilitation division.

“I know this may not be my job, since it requires leading the politicians and legislation in the Knesset. Nonetheless, I am announcing that, as of now, as the ‘head of the army union’ – as the financial newspapers like to call whoever sits in the chief of staff’s chair – I am ready for true and honest negotiations over all of this.

“The matter of rehabilitation is serious and sad, but it is clear to me that it requires a change. In recent years, the rehabilitation budget has climbed and doubled, to some 5 billion shekels [almost $1.3 billion] a year – among other reasons, because of political decisions. It is easier for Knesset members to be nice at the expense of the defense budget. My proposal to Bibi and Yair Lapid is to stop worrying and adopt the full recommendations of the Goren Committee, which spent a year and a half studying the matter and presented its recommendations over four years ago.

“It is also clear to me that a reform of military pensions and retirement conditions is needed for officers of the standing army. Despite all the difficulties involved, we must reduce our commitments to those retiring and raise the retirement age. There are very few people in Israel who did not have their pension terms worsened in recent years. But we don’t need to harm the military.

“The way to recruit the very best to the IDF is through creativity and thinking outside the box, such as adopting methods common in the business world. I am convinced that this does not have to include merely the promise of a pension at age 40-plus and membership in the Hever purchasing organization. Without fundamental treatment of these three things – pension, salaries and rehabilitation – and reducing budgets, the IDF will always suffer a great shortage, and the future security of all of us will be at risk.

“In general, I am aware that investing resources in Israeli society, in education, health and reducing inequality, improves security no less than investing the money in APCs and planes. I admit that, for too many years, the IDF neglected considerations of social justice, and the time has come to change that.

“And if we are already talking about budgets, I promise to cut the budgets of the wasteful and excessive defense representatives in New York. It will both save money and show the entire system that the period of arranging jobs for cronies and retirees is over, and that the IDF of the future is a more efficient and frugal army.

“After all, every reservist knows that the army wastes too much. I am planning on ending the nepotism and protection in the army – in combat units, the 8200 intelligence unit, and other desirable units. I will also pay special attention to the way the IDF does business with civilian companies in the areas of weaponry, communications and high-tech, and will ensure that everything is handled according to the law, ethics and regulations.

“In conclusion, I want to tell you that I recently saw the movie ‘Zero Motivation.’ This Israeli film, which may not be a documentary but is very realistic, paints a depressing picture of IDF service for women soldiers. Not that it showed anything new to me, but after watching the film, the urgent need for a revolution in military service in the IDF was much clearer – and not just for women.

“The phenomenon of soldiers living in poverty was also exposed recently. This shows that, as we have advanced technologically, we have not been smart enough to look at the people involved. I promise that, within two or three years, instead of PR statements on a sole female pilot or woman combat soldier with a knife between her teeth, we will be able to report in the press about masses of male and female soldiers who see the army as a home and will remember their service as something that contributed to their maturity and understanding.”