State report calls for sharp military budget cuts, angering IDF brass
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State report calls for sharp military budget cuts, angering IDF brass

Locker Commission calls for shorter mandatory army service, slashes to pensions; Ya’alon says suggested reforms are ‘imbalanced in the extreme’

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Committee chief Maj. Gen. (res) Yohanan Locker, center, stands alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after presenting his commission's recommendations for the defense budget. (Amos Ben Gershon/ GPO)
Committee chief Maj. Gen. (res) Yohanan Locker, center, stands alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after presenting his commission's recommendations for the defense budget. (Amos Ben Gershon/ GPO)

A government report calling for deep cuts in the army’s spending plan, a sharp reduction in the duration of compulsory service and a fixed five-year budget for the IDF to plan for future conflicts was made public Tuesday, igniting an angry volley of criticism from military brass.

The Locker Report, commissioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014, also proposes cuts to the Defense Ministry’s famously generous pension plans and reducing the term of service for non-combat soldiers from three years to two by 2020.

The report’s commission, headed by Maj. Gen. (res) Yohanon Locker, a former military liaison to Prime Minister Netanyahu and a former senior IAF staff officer, suggested that combat soldiers serve a full three years, as they do today, but that they receive a “fitting salary” during the final 12 months rather than the several hundred shekels per month currently paid.

IDF commander Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Monday that the army would study the findings but stressed that army career officers “should be treated with due respect” and that “harming them, harms the IDF’s ability to fulfill its role” and “unnecessarily harms the public’s faith in the IDF.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also came out against the report, calling it “imbalanced in the extreme and totally divorced from the realities surrounding and within Israel.”

On Monday, an anonymous military official called the report “a bullet between the eyes of the IDF” and a plan “suitable for Switzerland,” not Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, left, and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on November 27, 2014, when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israeli army. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, left, and then-Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on November 27, 2014, when Eisenkot learned he had won the appointment to head the Israeli army. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

The members of the commission met 63 times and included two other major generals – one a former head of the army’s computer branch and the other a former head of manpower at the Israel Police – alongside a former president of the defense electronics company Elbit Sytems, and four economists and pension plan professionals, one of whom is a former director general of the Finance Ministry.

The commission submitted 23 main suggestions and was unanimous in its endorsement of the report.

Among other things, it suggested setting the Defense Ministry budget at NIS 59 billion ($15.4 billion) per year from 2016-2020.

“Cognizant of the importance of training” and of maintaining the army’s technological edge, the commission suggested “coloring” the funds invested toward those ends so that the money cannot be re-routed, as has happened often in the past.

Additionally, in a suggestion that is nothing short of revolutionary, the Locker Report suggested establishing inter-ministry transparency between the Defense Ministry, Finance Ministry, National Security Council and the Prime Minister’s Office, despite the confidential nature of parts of the defense budget.

“The lack of transparency and lack of trust significantly harms the work between the two ministries,” the authors wrote.

They stated that the commission “attaches importance of the first order” to this suggestion.

The commission further suggested cutting the army’s manpower by 11 percent by the end of 2017 and reducing the overall budget paid to career officers by 14%.

It suggested that NIS 9.6 billion could be trimmed off the budget in total by the end of 2020 by changing the terms of retirement, cutting staff officer and combat-support roles and, among other things, changing the terms under which a soldier is eligible for disability payments from the Defense Ministry.

For instance, today a soldier who is severely injured while driving a civilian car back to the base would receive a lifetime compensation and rehabilitation package from the Defense Ministry. The commission, relying on the finding of the 2010 Goren Report, suggested that such a soldier should, like an ordinary civilian, seek recourse from the national insurance plan, which is often far less generous.

Finally, the commission, in recognizing “the dynamic security reality” in Israel, implored the government to update the state’s “security concept,” which should serve as “a compass” pointing the army toward the correct weapons acquisition and operational plans, but which has not been formally updated in decades.

The army’s commander, Eiseknot, did not meet with the commission, signaling the army’s opposition to its findings.

“I am aware of the discourse and the desire to receive security for less money,” he said in a statement, “but there is no need to harm those who tied their lives to the security of the state.”

Eisenkot on Monday unveiled the army’s own reorganization plan, which it suggests as an alternative to the Locker Report’s suggestions.

Termed the “Gideon” plan, it would see career officers’ pensions upheld, with certain reforms, cuts to the military’s reserve personnel, a 6% across-the-board cut to headquarters personnel, the relegation of certain jobs to the civilian sector and several structural reforms in combat units.

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