Should IDF Officers Be Able to Disagree With Superiors?

In military journal, Nahal Brigade commander Amir Abilafia warns disconnect between senior commanders and the processes inside the organization will make army less effective.

Many officers in the Israel Defense Forces lack the courage to disagree with their commanders, producing a less-effective army, a top officer wrote in the military journal Maarachot last week.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at a ceremony marking the end of an officers course, 1952.
Cohen Fritz

The author, Nahal Brigade commander Amir Abulafia, summed up his graduate work at the National Security College in an article entitled "The courage to voice an opinion." He conducted his research between his current post and his previous one as operations chief at the General Staff.

Col. Abulafia begins by quoting a French officer on the eve of World War I: "I have two stars on my shoulder, and he has three - how can I argue with him?" The officer was referring to the French chief of staff; he was right and the chief of staff was wrong, but he didn't dare confront him, Abulafia writes.

Abulafia says the French officer's approach is typical, adding that "subordinate officers usually avoid expressing opinions contradicting those of their superiors ... or presenting information or opinions they think do not match the opinions of more senior officers."

He suggests that "leaders of an organization cannot make good decisions if they are not exposed to a variety of opinions. When the organization is an army, bad decisions could gravely damage its ability to fulfill its aim: defending the state."

Abulafia interviewed eight brigadier generals and major generals, both serving and retired, all on condition of anonymity. All interviewees agreed that there was a lack of courage to express independent opinions in the IDF.

Four of the interviewees said the problem was with the senior commanders, who decide whether everyone will be allowed to voice an opinion, or just yes-men. Two interviewees argued that in the General Staff forum consisting of major generals, opinions were being voiced freely.

The interviewees cited the conduct of senior officers (personality, management style and a readiness to delegate authority ), the personality of subordinate officers, the relationship between the two, the method for making military appointments, a lack of professionalism or knowledge, and a desire to avoid conflicts.

Abulafia and his interviewees agree that the main danger is a disconnect between senior commanders and the processes inside the organization. This leaves the organization bereft of many valuable insights that could prevent wrong decisions.