Comptroller slams readiness of Israel’s reserves, home front

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira finds army reserves acutely under-trained, key civilian sites unprotected

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks with reserve soldiers at the Tze'elim training base on November 18, 2012. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Office/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks with reserve soldiers at the Tze'elim training base on November 18, 2012. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Office/Flash90)

The bulk of the Israeli army’s ground troops – its reservists – are under-trained to the point that they may not be able to fulfill wartime missions, Israel’s state comptroller ruled in a report Monday.

“The duration, substance and manner of training do not allow for the drilling of all the necessary capabilities, nor for achieving the proficiencies needed for combat,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote in a report examining the Defense Ministry.

He further found that this state of affairs may harm the corps’ ability “to fulfill its missions.”

Israel has a relatively small standing army, which operates with the understanding that in a time of war, or even amid a large-scale military operation, the government will summon reserve troops to bolster the fighting force. This has been the case in each of Israel’s wars.

In recent years, though, as the military budget has shrunk in proportion to the national budget — it once represented, after the Yom Kippur War, 28.7 percent of the GDP, as opposed to the 2012 level of 6.7 percent — the volume and vigor of reserve training has dwindled.

The lack of readiness was apparent during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and it sparked a surge in training over the ensuing years. In 2012 and 2013, however, the army again decided to limit reserves training on account of budgetary constraints.

Over the course of 2013, the report revealed, the army conducted only half of the brigade-wide drills that were planned for ground troops reserves units and only three-quarters of the battalion-wide drills.

In June 2014, all reserves training was stopped for a period of several months but reinstated for the final quarter of the year.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is quoted in the report as saying, in June 2014, that “the severity of the budgetary crisis” is “leading to a sharp and disastrous injury to the reserves corps and its readiness.”

The IDF, in response to the report, said that it “is acting in order to optimally utilize the training,” balancing military needs with budgetary restraints.

After welcoming the report and promising to “draw the necessary conclusions,” the army statement said that an “effort is being made” to set aside funds in 2015 explicitly for the training of reserves units.

The 10-chapter report, investigating among other things Israel Aerospace Industries and the treatment of wounded veterans, also expressed alarm at persistent stagnation in the protection of sensitive civilian sites, which loom large as targets in Israel’s future armed conflicts.

The findings reveal that “while there is consistent progress in [terms of] threats, there is no real progress in the delivery of a response to those threats.”

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Moreover, Shapira found that since 2004 the work that has been done has been “primarily methodological” and that “it has yet to lead to actual steps” — despite the fact that the home front, rather than Israel’s military troops, has become the primary target of Israel’s enemies.

In this regard, too, the Second Lebanon War was to have served as a wake-up call to Israel’s leaders, the comptroller’s office has long contended.

In July 2007, one year after the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, then state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released a report about the readiness of the home front. During the course of the 34-day war, he wrote, “multiple failures, some of them most grave,” were apparent in the way the government and the various security forces addressed the ongoing attacks against Israel’s civilians. The remedy, he wrote, was for the government to establish “a central, national organization” that could “concentrate on the home front during ordinary times and times of emergency – including the formulation of protocol and the building of troop structure and their training.”

In 2011, this, along with political expediency, birthed the Home Front Defense Ministry, which was given a budget, a staff, and offices, but not legislative authority.

Three years later, in April of 2014, with little progress made, the minister resigned and the ministry collapsed into the pages of history.

An officer from the Home Front Command talks to students during an emergency drill at an Israeli school, October 2012 (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)
An officer from the Home Front Command talks to students during an emergency drill at an Israeli school, October 2012 (photo credit: Oren Nahshon/Flash90)

Today, with responsibility for the protection of the home front squarely in the hands of the Defense Ministry, Shapira urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formulate a defense doctrine for Israel’s sensitive sites and the Defense Ministry to appoint a single actor with responsibility for the project. In the name of “the protection of state security,” he excised the specific details of the recommendations from the public document.

Shapira, far more mild-mannered than his predecessor — who was seen as an antagonist to Netanyahu — recommended that the IDF chief of staff set a minimum training budget for the reservists of the ground troops and the defense minister approve the requirements and present them to the cabinet and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Refraining from doing so, he wrote, “harms the Knesset and the political echelon’s ability to oversee the level of preparedness of the reserves corps, as is required [by law].”

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