Backing Knesset committee, IDF comptroller says army in best shape in years

Report notes there are still a number of problems and that improvements must be made to ground forces, but rejects ombudsman’s repeated claims that military is unprepared for war

Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade take part in a large-scale training exercise in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade take part in a large-scale training exercise in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF comptroller has rejected persistent assertions by the Defense Ministry ombudsman that the Israel Defense Forces are insufficiently prepared for ground war, saying the military is in its best shape for years.

The report by Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari, parts of which were released for publication Wednesday morning, found a number of problems and noted improvements that must be made in the ground forces, but determined that “the IDF’s ground forces are unequivocally prepared for war.”

He said a committee he headed had found “significant gaps” between the claims of Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick and “the results of our report.”

Brick has repeatedly warned lawmakers and the public over the past year that the army is unprepared for war, with significant quantitative and qualitative disparities between what the military says it needs and what it actually has.

Brick has criticized the state of military vehicles and its emergency storage units, crucial for arming and supplying reserve troops during war. He has also lambasted the IDF’s changes to manpower in recent years which have seen the number of career soldiers significantly scaled back.

IDF comptroller Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari (YouTube screenshot)

He said he based his claims on conversations with commanders in the field rather than the military’s top brass.

The military committee, which was appointed by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in September to examine Brick’s assertions of major failings, included several retired generals.

It pointed to several issues which require attention, including logistics — a shortage of cargo trucks and certain combat equipment; manpower — a need to further incentivize and accommodate the needs of junior command; command and control — a need to better integrate digital control systems in infantry, more duty days for reserve soldiers.

The issues raised were similar to those noted by a Knesset committee which issued its report last week. Both committees, while critical of some aspects of army readiness, rejected Brick’s alarm.

Army committee members posited that Brick’s proclamations were based more on his impressions from random conversations with officers than on empirical evidence.

Harari said the report, with 41 recommendations, was submitted to Eisenkot in recent days, and he had accepted them all.

A senior officer in the Ground Forces Command told Ynet: “I was not surprised by Brick’s report, and I didn’t need the report to know what we’re missing…[but] his concerns could have been aired in a better manner. The way he presented his claims hurt our deterrence and the public trust in the IDF.”

Defense Ministry Ombudsman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick at a Knesset State Control Committee meeting in the Knesset, on December 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week’s Knesset report, while acknowledging issues exist, stated that the military’s operational preparedness had overall “significantly improved since Operation Protective Edge,” the official name of 2014’s Gaza war. It said the probe had found “a dramatic increase in readiness by almost every indicator — whether in the number of training drills, whether in munitions stocks, spare parts inventory and more.”

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early October, Brick, formally known as the chief complaints officer in the Defense Ministry, charged that the current situation in the IDF was “worse than it was at the time of the Yom Kippur War” in 1973, when Israel was famously caught off-guard by a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott speaks at a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, on December 4, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

And in a missive to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee he warned that army officers were not telling the truth about shortfalls.

A former tank commander and head of the army’s college system who has served as Defense Ministry ombudsman since 2008, Brick has long complained about many of the issues, but his criticism has grown more vocal in recent months, drawing rebuke from army leaders who have labeled him an alarmist.

In September, Eisenkot assured lawmakers that the military was prepared to fight a war under any scenario.

“The IDF is at a high level of preparedness and readiness for war with regard to any threat,” Eisenkot said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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