By Rejecting Reforms, the Top Brass Imperils Israel

The squandering of resources will affect the performance of the combat forces, which already have a hard time defeating enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Haaretz Editorial
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IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot with his predecessor Benny Gantz at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, February 16, 2015.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The state comptroller’s report on the defense budget, released on Wednesday, describes unprecedented disregard for public funds and mismanagement at the top of the Israel Defense Forces. This comes on top of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's faulty supervision of the military.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira found that the plan to reform the defense budget — a major part of the Brodet committee’s recommendations eight years ago — had been scrapped. A steering committee for carrying out the reforms met only once, an agency to lead the process was never set up, and the rank and file understood the message from above: Don’t waste time conserving resources.

Instead of slashing 10 billion shekels ($2.6 billion) in spending, as the Brodet report had recommended, the military saved only 3.8 billion. Cutbacks were made in vital areas such as combat readiness, while manpower continued to swell.

Netanyahu didn’t hold one debate on streamlining the military. Maybe he shouldn’t have, because since his return to power he has consistently acted to increase the defense budget at the expense of social services.

Netanyahu probably remembered his disagreements with the top brass in his first term in the ‘90s and figured the generals damaged his public image and perhaps helped oust him. Padding the IDF with huge amounts of money  ensures him industrial quiet in the strongest, most popular organization in Israel. This must also be why the Locker report on streamlining the military is likely to be scrapped, as Haaretz’s Amos Harel has written.

But the problem isn’t the power struggle between the army and the cabinet or the treasury, but the IDF’s self-destructive process. The army’s leaders scale back training and combat readiness but refuse any change to their people’s pension rights. They see reforms as bureaucratic decrees that must be resisted, rather than as a wake-up call. They thus risk an erosion of military power when D-Day finally comes.

The mismanagement and squandering of resources won’t stop at the General Staff — it will  affect the performance of the combat forces, which already have a hard time defeating enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas.

The comptroller’s report follows the Locker report in sounding the alarm over the scale of the army’s predicament. Instead of caving in to the defense minister and chief of staff’s intimidation, Netanyahu must compel them to carry out the Locker reforms and condition any added funds in the future on real reforms.