Poverty Is Good for the Israeli Army

The IDF will not be a barrier to peace but the political leadership in Israel maintains a state of war.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

A minute or two, a month or two, before the confrontation with the Palestinians or with the Americans - the choice is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s - it is clear to everyone that the present situation cannot continue for years, and almost certainly not even for months.

The false hopes that the Arab peoples surrounding Israel will in the end accept Israel’s hold on the territories that have been in its hands since June 1967 has evaporated everywhere, except among the settlers and their supporters in the governing parties. The only question is whether Israel is ready to pay the price of its recalcitrance and to carry on in an eternal war, while insisting on transforming friends and partners into rivals and reigniting the hatred of enemies that had become mere rivals.

To this question Israeli society in general, as opposed to pressure groups that dictate the government line, answers no in the form of a protest that results in a rise in the social welfare budget. Israeli society is not willing to pay for wars, even though it has still not dealt with the contradiction between this decision and the routine financing of the few who are responsible for the continuation of the conflict. The bounty of funding for defense has ended once and for all.

Poverty is good for the IDF. A poor army does not look for expensive wars. It may be strange to describe an army that is fed by tens of billions of shekels a year in such a way, but what counts in the end is not the total amount, but rather the range of flexibility. The IDF’s budget is dedicated to preparedness for combat - training and exercises - alongside maintaining the existing equipment and staff and growing stronger. The army was forced to close brigades and similar sized units that existed during the Sinai Campaign in 1956 and half of the forces it used in the Six Day War in 1967.

The General Staff is also proud of dismissing six brigadier generals. But that is only partially true: Some will remain on as civilians, receiving both pensions and salaries. A true flattening of the pyramid, including shaving large and unneeded corners -- divisions, directorates, departments, branches and units -- will have to wait for either courage or a crisis.

In a dullness of the senses characteristic of the General Staff, they are not touching the higher ranking generals, claiming that in a corporation of over half a million soldiers in compulsory, professional and reserve duty, it is not important if the management has 20, 22 or 24 senior executives. But boy is it important: There is no justification for the honor and money the military is willing to shower on its senior officers, at the same time it is skimping on salaries for its junior staff.

There is no need for a general in the professional army to fill the post of Military Advocate General, President of Military Court of Appeals, or as a corps commander. The first of these must be returned to the rank of brigadier general, the second should be only a District Court judge, and the third could be filled by reserve generals.

There is no proof of the need to appoint a major general in the professional army - or to return a retired one to service - for the Strategic Depth Command. The establishment of the command has improved operational planning, but still has not found its place among the Air Force, Navy and Intelligence branches. It is unnecessary to pay the salary of a major general in the professional army to its commander. We could make do with a retired general or by advancing an appropriate reserve brigadier general.

There are now modest and decent officers heading the military, certainly compared to many of their predecessors. The blows of the past have taught them that glory is not necessarily won by short term victories, but by preventing expensive entanglements.

If from the 1950s through the 1980s the military led the aggressiveness, the present generation in command is moderate and sober. They know what Netanyahu and his partners who share his opinions have yet to internalize: Even if a victory is achieved round after round -- and that is not what happens -- it would have little value if civilian society has given up on the idea of endless rounds.

An army becoming poorer and an enemy becoming richer - in terms of accumulating assets that it does not wish to lose through war - is a recipe for balance which reduces the risk of war, provided an agreement is reached with neighbors. Under its present management, the IDF will not be a barrier to peace. In the meantime, however, the political leadership is maintaining a state of war.

An IDF training exercise. Credit: IDF spokesman's office

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