Editorial

The Culture Adopted by the IDF Leads It Toward Organizational Collapse

Greater involvement by the public and by political leaders is needed to reestablish the army’s identity as a public organization, not a corporation that is quick to rashly adopt the latest management trends

Israeli special combat soldiers conduct a training exercise using virtual reality battlefield technology to simulate Hamas tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, Petach Tikva, Israel, April 2017
Bloomberg

The ombudsman of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, has issued a scathing report on the army’s organizational culture. The picture he paints is grave but not surprising. In recent years, in the wake of criticism of its financial conduct, the army has adopted a free-market culture, even boasting about privatizing certain processes. The ombudsman has now exposed the consequences of the shift: administrative dysfunction and a crisis of confidence among career service members.

To name one example, the army zigzagged between bringing forward and pushing back the retirement age of career officers, until finally arriving at a new formula. “Only one out of 10 reach retirement age,” the army boasted about its impairment of the employment stability of its career officers. Brik’s report shows that this model leaves the army without high-quality personnel, since “many young officers are hesitant to risk being discharged from at a relatively advanced age, without a retirement safety net.” As a result, the army’s technology units are increasingly losing the younger officers’ knowledge base.

The report describes soldiers’ weapons being cleaned by subcontractors on one training base. But didn’t the army boast about this when it built its city of training bases in southern Israel, freeing soldiers of such tasks by outsourcing them? The army boasted about having dismissed thousands of career soldiers to divert resources to strengthening the units and their preparedness while moving to a “model of measuring personnel according to wages,” in the words of the chief of staff. But the ombudsman now reports “an imbalance between the personnel remaining after the cuts and the missions — which did not diminish, but rather increased.”

Officers speak in worshipful tones about the adoption of civilian technologies and the flattening of the command hierarchies, but the ombudsman described a “Wild West” of emails and text messages that has undermined the army’s hierarchical discipline. The army encourages soldiers to use their cellphones, but it has ignored their destructive effect on discipline.

The culture adopted by the army is leading it toward organizational collapse, the report shows. But the army cannot repair the damage by itself. Greater involvement by the public and by political leaders is needed to reestablish the army’s identity as a public organization, not a corporation that is quick to rashly adopt the latest management trends.

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