A report released Sunday by the military ombudsman has found that the army’s flagship five-year plan to streamline the giant institution has, in some cases, made it less efficient.
Over the past year and a half, the army has rolled out the “Gideon plan,” that cut thousands of positions, dissolved some units, formed others and generally forced the military to do more with less, but it has not all gone to plan in may cases, leaving inexperienced or demoralized commanders in charge.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, who has served as the IDF ombudsman since 2008, in his annual report found units waiting months to fill positions, doctors responsible for over 1,000 soldiers, a mental health officer responsible for well over 2,000 soldiers. In addition, Brick said the cost-cutting measures adopted by the IDF led to young officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) having generally low morale.
The ombudsman found that as a result of the streamlining Gideon plan, there are substantive gaps in the army’s “combat support” units, which provide the logistical back-up for fighting units, driving trucks, cooking food, checking ammunition, maintaining communications equipment, etc.
“Due to manpower cuts and the dissolution of career officer positions, one officer carries out the job that in the past would have been handled by two or three people,” Brick noted.
The Gideon plan, which was announced in late 2015, cut the number of career soldiers down to under 40,000. “The idea is to create a younger military,” an IDF officer said at the time. “One that is slimmer, stronger, more focused, better trained.”
Each year, the ombudsman releases a report based on the complaints they received throughout the previous year. On Sunday, Brick released the report for 2016, based off 6,758 written complaints — a slight uptick from 2015’s 6,371. Of the complaints Brick received, the majority — 58 percent — were found to be justified, genuine complaints.
Most of these complaints dealt with either medical-related problems — generally poor treatment — or with issue connected to the relationship between commander and soldier. Brick’s report did not indicate that these types of incidents were on the rise in the IDF to a significant extent.
The complaints to the ombudsman about low morale and poor medical treatment, however, do seem to be a growing problem, one the IDF is aware of already.
From his conversations with officers and NCOs, Brick said he found a severe lack of motivation among young commanders, in light of the low pay, extended periods of time away from family — at a time when many of them are just getting married and having children — and job insecurity brought on by the increasingly limited number of positions available under the Gideon plan.
In addition to feelings of “frustration” and low morale among young commanders, Brick also found that this “younger military” is also one lacking in experience.
As career NCOs are driven out of the military, some of their positions are being taken by younger soldiers performing their compulsory service.
“Compulsory service soldiers in the position [of company sergeant], as good as they can be, are not a replacement for seniority and experience,” Brick said.
The ombudsman found multiple examples of units left without necessary officers and NCOs, like those responsible for maintaining ammunition and communications equipment.
In response to Brick’s report, the army said that it was working to address some of the concerns of NCOs and young officers, specifically their complaints of low pay.
“As part of the Gideon plan and the desire to keep appropriate and high-quality people in career service, an agreement was signed by the IDF and Defense Ministry with the Finance Ministry to improve the salary of new career soldiers,” the army said in a statement.
For instance, the military decided to increase the salaries of NCOs from NIS 5,500 ($1,500) a month to NIS 7,500 ($2,000) a month, the army said.
According to Brick, there are also significant gaps in the numbers of doctors, mental health workers, nurses and medics needed in the IDF and the number of medical professionals currently serving in the IDF.
(In his report earlier this month, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira made the same observation of severe gaps in the military’s health care network, including its psychiatric programs.)
“For instance, one doctor was required to treat approximately 1,200 soldiers, in combat training; a mental health officer in one of the bases was responsible for 2,300 soldiers,” Brick wrote in his report.
Regarding the shortage of mental health officers, it should be noted that the majority of the soldiers who died in the IDF in 2016 committed suicide.
The IDF responded to the ombudsman’s report, saying it was aware of the problem and is working put together a plan to address the issue, specifically to decrease the waiting time for soldiers to see a doctor by increasing the number of people at its call centers by 110 percent.
In terms of the mental health care issues, the army said it was meeting the requirements set for it. “The wait-time to see a mental health officer in a training unit is not more than two weeks, and in some specific cases, an extra mental health officer is brought in,” the army said in a statement.
Of the complaints filed with the ombudsman, nearly 40% had to do with ill-treatment of a soldier by his or her officer, including cases of racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as general abuse.
One of the more dramatic examples provided by Brick involved an officer denying a soldier access to a mental health officer. When the soldier threatened to hurt himself with a knife, the officer told him: “If you’re a man, cut, cut.”
Brick noted that the officer was punished for his treatment of the soldier.
In another case, the commanders of a training course “outed” a soldier in the unit, informing the rest of the unit that he was gay by showing a video of two men kissing with the “obvious insinuation as to his sexual preference,” Brick wrote.
“This was done without the soldier’s permission or awareness, and worse yet, was shown to every soldier in the platoon. Because of it, the soldier hung his head in shame and embarrassment,” the ombudsman said.
The IDF said of the report that every commander is expected to behave professionally towards their soldiers, and that any incident is “investigated, checked and handled with the utmost severity.
In a statement, the army said that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eiesnkot appointed his deputy Aviv Kochavi to address the issues raised in Brick’s report.