Enough of the Cover-up Culture

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An IDF fighter jet damaged due to heavy rainfall that flooded an army base in southern Israel.

The damage caused by the flood last week at the Hatzor Air Force base, which did damage to eight F-16 fighter jets estimated at millions of shekels, is worrisome. Because of negligence, huge sums of public funds went down the drain and the army’s readiness was undermined, during a period more sensitive than usual from a security perspective given the tensions in the Persian Gulf. It’s especially unfortunate because this happened to the Israel Air Force, which is generally considered a “greenhouse” for quality management compared to what happens in other parts of the defense establishment.

A senior air force officer admitted Monday that the blunder happened because of a bad judgment call by the base commanders. Preparing for possible flooding doesn’t require any particularly great insight. There have been floods on the base in the past, and the drainage problems at Hatzor are known to the Israel Defense Forces.

Photos of the planes sitting nearly wing-deep in puddles were being posted on social media within hours of the flooding last Thursday. Hundreds of soldiers and officers and thousands of civilians knew almost immediately about the blunder and the damage. Nevertheless, the IDF did not report what happened to the pubic on its own initiative; the military censor delayed publication of the mainstream press reports until Sunday. Release of the pictures took another day; only then did the IDF spokesman hold a press briefing. The claim that publication was delayed in order not to reveal sensitive information on army readiness is not persuasive; after all, the information was published Sunday in any case.

There are similarities between the flooding and the scandal revealed last month, when it became clear that for years the army was giving the government and Knesset deceptive information about the number of ultra-Orthodox men being drafted into its ranks. In that case, which is now being investigated by a committee head by Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa, the IDF also knew about the error before it was made known to the public by the media (although in that case, several months passed before the story came out).

All this follows the warning by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik about the substandard organizational culture and false reporting that has spread like a virus throughout the army. The IDF is being caught far too often in management and organizational blunders that likely wouldn’t be acceptable in civilian life. The repeated delays in reporting on problems to the public raises the concern of a desire to control the flow of information while also “massaging” it to stress extenuating circumstances before it is released.

In a speech to officers last month, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said, “Honesty, truth-telling and reliable reporting are the soul of the IDF.” Given that defense outlays are still the most expensive part of the state budget, the public could expect a higher level of transparency and timely reporting from the IDF. Kochavi must demonstrate that he won’t suffice with demanding this of his officers, but that he practices what he preaches.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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