Opinion

The Israeli Army Chief's Secret Weapon: The Spokesman's Unit

Israel Defense Forces  Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi
Gil Eliahu

If you take Lebanon Street to Tel Aviv University, you'll find that just after the Eretz Israel Museum an enormous concrete monster has sprouted up. It's six stories high and includes two giant adjoined buildings with 5,000 square meters (53,820 square feet) of office space. For whom is this behemoth intended?

To solve this mystery, let's review the multiyear plan of the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, parts of which were published by the media last week. Kochavi, who has a way with sophisticated words, presented military reporters with impressive procurement plans including innovation, a digital transformation, "an operational internet," multidimensional units and “the prioritization of the IDF's operational wing.” These big words are nothing but synonyms for “I want an enormous budget increase, and that's that.”

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To soften up his target audience (the government and the public), Kochavi began shelling us with fear, as is customary in the army. He talked about instability in the Middle East, terror, technological risks and threats including cyberattacks and missile salvos. The fact that we have a strategic advantage makes no impression on Kochavi, nor does the fact that countries in the region are busy with internal crises and no military force really threatens us. 

Even the harsh sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Iran aren't enough to stop Israel's military chief. He wants 15 billion shekels ($4.2 billion) in the next five years, and don’t bother him with reality.

About a month ago, Kochavi held a “victory workshop” where he discussed with General Staff officers how to achieve a clear victory in the next war. It seems I uncovered a secret plan at that workshop: that huge structure in Ramat Aviv that will provide a final answer to all the threats surrounding us. And who will reside in this structure? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

This unit is currently located in a nice building next to Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv occupying 1,467 meters of office space. The building is slated for demolition, and it would have made sense to replace it with a more humble facility at Camp Ariel Sharon in the Negev. But when the army demands and receives enormous budget increases every year, it spends huge sums without even thinking.

For example, the army builds this magnificent building for the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit in Tel Aviv's most expensive area (after tearing down the facility that stood there). We're talking about a structure three times the size of the previous one that costs 50 million shekels ($14 million), not including the land. The building has an impressive glass wall, polished marble, a luxurious entrance and a concrete wall with a fashionable fence. I wonder how all this aligns with Kochavi’s vision of “prioritization of the IDF's operational wing.”

I figured that maybe the IDF censor, who sits today at Beit Yachin at the corner of Tel Aviv's Ibn Gabirol and Kaplan streets, on a floor covering 600 square meters, might move to the new building in Ramat Aviv (as the two units shared a space in the past). This way, the army could save 2 million shekels a year in rent. What naivete. The censor isn’t moving. This new building is meant only for the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

Just this week the army cried “gevalt! We have no money for the Iron Dome missile defense system. We need more missiles.” The government gave in and transferred the army another 40 million shekels, raised through cuts to education, health, welfare and infrastructure, while that monstrous structure in Ramat Aviv costs 50 million shekels ($14 million). Isn't that infuriating?

There are rumors that Kochavi heard about the difficult budgetary challenges and he even knows that the Finance Ministry is working on a plan of painful cuts in a bid to reduce the dangerous deficit. So he also knows that his demands for an “irregular budget” and the insane waste of money expressed in places like the megalomaniacal building in Ramat Aviv will take a high toll on classrooms, hospital beds and senior citizen stipends.

But what do I know about advanced strategy? The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is apparently “the operational wing” that Kochavi talked about and stands alongside the Sayeret Matkal commando unit.