Politicians praise army for taking criticism seriously

IDF appoints panel to assess ombudsman’s claims army not ready for war

Eisenkot gives team 45 days to review military’s preparedness after retired general sends repeated dire warnings to lawmakers

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers in a military post overlooking the border with Syria, in the Golan Heights following an F-16 plane crash in northern Israel, on February 10, 2018.  (Flash90)
Israeli soldiers in a military post overlooking the border with Syria, in the Golan Heights following an F-16 plane crash in northern Israel, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot on Wednesday ordered the creation of a committee to investigate claims made by the military ombudsman that the army is ill-prepared for war, the army said.

In recent months, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, formally known as the chief complaints officer in the Defense Ministry, has led a campaign warning of deep problems in the Israel Defense Forces, which he said were in large part the result of Eisenkot’s streamlining effort, the Gideon Plan.

Brick, who is soon due to end his 10-year tenure in the position, has released two extensive reports to the IDF top brass and senior lawmakers about the issue and called on the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to investigate the matter.

The reports said the army’s decision to cut the number of career soldiers and change how it decides whom to offer career positions to were negatively affecting the quality and quantity of the IDF’s manpower, among other criticisms.

Eisenkot has rejected these concerns, maintaining that the IDF is the most prepared that it has ever been for war, but ordered a panel to investigate the claims in light of the repeated warnings, the military said.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The army said Eisenkot’s move came after a discussion with Ground Forces commander Maj. Gen. Kobi Barak.

The committee, created under the auspices of IDF Comptroller Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari, will be led by retired general Avi Mizrachi and will be made up of senior officers in the reserves.

The army said the committee will work “transparently and in cooperation with all units of the IDF.” It will have 45 days to investigate the ombudsman’s claims.

In the statement, Eisenkot stressed that he still believed that the IDF’s “preparedness and fitness for combat and victory are high.”

Brick has faced criticism that he was overstepping his bounds as the types of issues raised are not within the purview of his position, which is to review outside complaints about the army.

Seemingly noting Brick’s outsider status, Eisenkot said the new committee’s investigation would be conducted “in a professional manner and with the wide and deep evaluation tools that are in the hands of official auditor figures, including the IDF comptroller.”

IDF Ombudsman Yitzhak Brick poses with a copy of his annual report on May 28, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

The internal probe could be seen as an attempt by the army to head off any possible external investigation by the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee.

Lawmakers from the committee lauded the military’s decision to form the investigatory panel and indicated they would be following it closely.

“The chief of staff made the right move when he initiated a deep investigation of the claims made by Maj. Gen. Brick about the army’s preparedness. This is not because Brick is right in all his assertions, but rather because the IDF must respond to all significant criticism,” said Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah.

Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Union party, who is not a member of the committee, called for an outside assessment of the army’s preparedness.

“The investigation cannot end within the army, and there should be intensive hearings held as soon as possible in the security cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee. It is of the utmost importance that the investigation is conducted by an external, independent body in parallel to the IDF check,” Cabel wrote on Twitter.

Earlier this month, 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 wrote in a letter to members of the security cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“As the person responsible for the army’s readiness for war, I declare that IDF is prepared for any mission required of it,” he added in the letter, which was attached to a classified report.

Eisenkot went on to hail the military’s “intelligence and aerial superiority, ground capabilities and abundant operational experience, which is tested daily at all the theaters of war.”

An IDF Merkava tank drives near the border with Syria on the Golan Heights on November 28, 2016. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Brick focused much of criticism on the manpower changes made in recent years under the IDF’s Gideon Plan, which the military started rolling out in 2016.

Under the plan, the number of career soldiers was significantly scaled back, with officers being reviewed when they reach the ages of 28, 35 and 42. At those times, if the officer does not appear to be heading for promotion, he or she is drummed out of the military.

According to Brick, that “up or out” policy is having a negative impact on the army’s ability to function.

“The army’s decisions will be based on compromise, and military service will become service by mediocre officers,” he wrote.

An illustrative photo of Israeli reserve soldiers take part in a training drill in Baf Lachish army base in southern Israel, on December 22, 2016. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

The ombudsman said the military’s decision to cut back the number of positions for career soldiers as part of the Gideon Plan has negatively affected the army’s ability to wage war in a number of ways.

The plan, which was announced in late 2015, cut the number of career soldiers down to less than 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.”

The cuts to the number of career officers, along with the recent decrease in the amount of time that male soldiers are required to serve under the draft, mean those remaining soldiers end up having to do more to make up the difference, according to the report.

As a result, the shortages “cause burnout, lack of sleep, failure to carry out orders and is also liable to cause a loss of motivation for continued service” for the remaining career officers and noncommissioned officers, Brick wrote.

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