IDF on Comptroller Report: Budget Cuts Hindered counter-Qassam Moves

The Israel Defense Forces hit back Wednesday night after criticism from the state comptroller over its strategy in dealing with Qassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, saying its operational plans had been adversely affected by budgetary difficulties.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' annual report, released Wednesday afternoon, criticized severe failures in the IDF handling of the Qassam and mortar attacks on Israel from Gaza, as well as the threats posed by the tunnels used by militants to smuggle weapons and infiltrate Israel.

"Budget cuts and delays in receiving approval have made it difficult to formulate a long-term plan for the formation of an IDF force, in particular regarding the prevention of high trajectory fire," said a statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office.

The statement said that all the issues mentioned in the report have undergone a thorough examination and a significant number of them had already been dealt with.

But the comptroller's report concluded that the threats were dealt with only partially, and in an inconsistent manner because the IDF failed to develop a concrete strategy to combat them. The IDF failed to develop, or purchase adequate defense and identification systems, and also failed to place enough weight on the implications of these threats.

Both these central threats were dealt with inadequately by a wide range of military departments, the report concluded.

The failures surrounding the safeguarding the home front from the threat of Qassam rockets have already been described in the first part of the annual report published in January 2006, several months after the disengagement.

The second half of the report revealed that not only have these failures not been addressed, they have worsened. The comptroller mentions in the report that 1,025 rockets landed in the Negev in 2006. Though the threat of the Qassams was identified at the end of 2001, the IDF didn't develop a strategy to combat the threat quickly enough, and by the end of 2005 there was still no clear strategy, the report said.

The comptroller found that the IDF failed to address central issues such as preventing the Qassam fire or dealing with the rocket production infrastructure. Only in October 2004 did then chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon appoint his deputy, Dan Halutz, to head a thinktank aimed at coming up with a solution to the Qassam problem.

In addition, the report continues, the technological approach to the problem was not utilized quickly enough, as the Defense Ministry approved the development of the "Iron Dome" anti-rocket system just two months ago. The defense system will be operational only in several years.

The comptroller's report also mentioned of a series of terror attacks that occurred between 2001-2004 and made use of illegal tunnels. Seven IDF soldiers were killed in these attacks, and seven more died during attempts to eliminate the tunnels. In another terror attack in 2006, two tank operators were killed, and Corporal Gilad Shalit was taken hostage by militants who infiltrated Israel through such tunnels.

The comptroller found that the threat posed by these tunnels has been known for over twenty years. The IDF viewed the issue as something only the southern command should make efforts to combat. Only in 2004 did the IDF expand the responsibility for combating tunnels across a wider range of military departments.

The chief engineering corps officer was placed in charge of coordinating the handling of the issue and simultaneously, Ya'alon appointed an advisor to review the problem. The advisor's main recommendation was to set up a special administration to come up with solutions - this recommendation was never fulfilled.

As in the case of the rockets, the report faults the IDF with failing to find a technological solution to the problem quickly enough. Nine proposals for the development of devices that could be used to locate tunnels were submitted to the IDF in 2001, but after more than four years, there is still no fully operational system.

The comptroller says in the report that during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 it became clear that Hezbollah had made wide use of tunnels.

Poor budgeting for disengagement

The budget approved in March 2005 allocated NIS 2.2 billion to fund the disengagement from Gaza. In the six months that followed, however, the cabinet ministers made a series of separate decisions regarding housing solutions for Gaza evacuees, which significantly raised the cost of the plan.

The comptroller concluded that "the disengagement plan was a move initiated by the government, and the government knew that a large budget would be required to fund it. The budgetary considerations should have played a greater role in the examination of the various options, something which was not done.

"The cabinet and the Knesset were not presented with estimates and assessments regarding the expense that may be required to fund the various solutions."

The comptroller examined the conduct of the ministerial committee on the disengagement and found that most of the topics the panel dealt with were "specific and private," while the "important and central topics" were not addressed. The committee made countless decisions which required additional funding, but never cited the source for the funds.

"The Treasury's budget department should have set up a mechanism that would have allowed it to follow the expenditures, and report them to the decision makers and to the public," the comptroller wrote in the report. The lack of such a mechanism caused the budget to rise from NIS 4.5 billion to NIS 9 billion within a year.

In response to the comptroller's criticism, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement that, "only after the Evacuation-Compensation Law was approved in February 2005, was it possible to perform the necessary preparations for its implementation in accordance with the changes made by the Knesset, as opposed to the original bill.

"The Supreme Court decision on petitions regarding the law was made in June 2005 and required renewed preparation. Between June 2004 and March 2005 we could have guessed that there would be a need to provide housing for the evacuees, but we couldn't translate this guess into financial estimates, and we couldn't put them into motion, because most of the residents [to be evacuated] refused to speak to the government's representatives."

Welfare Ministry still to address previous failures

An examination of the Welfare Ministry revealed that a large number of the failures brought up the comptroller's report two years ago have not yet been addressed.

In recent years, the number of external service providers, paid by the ministry to provide welfare services has grown steadily, but the number of inspectors overseeing the quality of the services has remained the same.

This is despite the fact that the ministry pledged, after the publication of the previous comptroller's report, to request a special budget to fund the increase in the number of inspectors.

Despite warnings, no preparation for bird flu

Two years before the 2006 avian flu epidemic in Israel, the authorities received warnings from several international sources that should have prompted the Agriculture Ministry to properly prepare for the outbreak.

But, the state comptroller concluded, the preparation was inadequate. The warnings became more urgent in October 2005, about six months before the outbreak, and still the authorities in Israel failed to prepare for the crisis.

The epidemic erupted in March 2006 and the Agriculture Ministry took two weeks to contain it, at a cost of NIS 14.7 million. Farmers were also paid compensation totaling NIS 21.3 million.

The methods used to cull the infected flocks were also faulted by the report for being inefficient and ineffective. There was no authority to oversee the national effort to combat the disease, and there was a lack of coordination between the different bodies concerned, the report revealed.

The comptroller also criticized the fact that the budget requested by the Agriculture Ministry prior to the outbreak was only transferred after the crisis began, and even then, a little over half of the requested funds were approved.

Women inadequately represented on Israel's Olympic Committee

The state comptroller examined Israel's Olympic Committee and found that not all sectors are properly represented within it. The International Olympic Committee recommends that women comprise 20 percent of the decision makers on any Olympic board. However, only two women serve on Israel's committee, out of 31 members.

Kinneret beach bathers charged illegal entrance fees

Previous comptrollers have repeatedly criticized the practice of erecting illegal fencing around beaches at Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), and charging entrance fees for access to what is essentially public land.

The comptroller inspected the beaches and found a certain improvement in the enforcement of previous recommendations, but most of the beaches are still fenced and visitors are still charged entrance fees, in violation of the law.

The follow up inspection also revealed that the local authorities in Tiberias have yet to provide free parking along the Kinneret beaches, as required by the law. This too was criticized in previous reports, and still nothing has been done.