IDF chief warns against false sense of security amid war for defense budget

IDF chief warns against false sense of security amid war for defense budget

At ceremony marking military’s role in COVID-19 response, Kohavi says relative calm should not lull country into complacency

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony at the Military Colleges campus north of Tel Aviv on June 8, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony at the Military Colleges campus north of Tel Aviv on June 8, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi on Monday night warned against complacency and a false sense of security from the relative calm in the region, in an apparent first volley in the expected coming war over the defense budget.

“This is the ‘security paradox’ — so long as there is calm and stability on security, we are inclined to forget how complicated it is to achieve. As long as there is security stability, a misleading feeling develops that the threats have diminished and a feeling develops that we can scale back our security needs,” Kohavi said in a speech.

“The Israel Defense Forces continued to prevent and drive out threats with unseen and covert warfare, by physically destroying and by neutralizing capabilities. These operations happen year-round and they give security and stability to the State of Israel, but they can be taken for granted. They shouldn’t be taken for granted and they obviously don’t happen by themselves,” he said.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and its disastrous effects on the world economy, the Israeli government is expected to make significant cuts to the country’s budget, including to the military. Such a reduction would make it difficult for the Israel Defense Forces to fully implement its proposed “Momentum Plan” to make the military more effective and deadly.

“We are working and continuing with Momentum and are rolling out the multi-year Momentum Plan. The Momentum Plan is the answer to the gaps that we need to close and is the advantage that we need to develop over our enemies,” Kohavi said.

“Only by maintaining the muscles of the army can we fight and win when called upon,” he added.

A fully integrated battlefield as envisioned by the Israeli military as part of its Momentum Plan in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Momentum Plan, which was rolled out earlier this year, is meant to give the military the tools it needs to win future wars as quickly as possible by identifying the areas in which the IDF has a marked advantage over its enemies and using them to the fullest — areas like intelligence-gathering, technology and air superiority. The military proposed doing so both with internal reorganization, a process that is ongoing, and through large purchases of drones, air-to-ground missiles and other weapons, some of which have been completed and others that will likely be held up by the financial crisis.

The military has already begun talks with the Finance Ministry as the government negotiates its budget.

The army chief’s remarks were made at a ceremony held at the military colleges campus north of Tel Aviv marking the contributions of both IDF units and non-military organizations during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, including the IDF Home Front Command, Military Intelligence, the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the Mossad spy agency, the Air Force, and the Israel Police.

“You were called up when the pandemic broke out — and you showed up. But truly, the vast majority of you were called up by your own consciences and values, and everywhere and in every way that you were asked to help — you showed up,” Kohavi said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony at the Military Colleges campus north of Tel Aviv on June 8, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier in the day, IDF top brass met to discuss the military’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic and how it was gearing up for the possibility of a second wave of infections.

The military played a major role in the national response to the COVID-19 crisis: distributing food to people with the disease and those at-risk of contracting it; developing technological tools to combat the contagion and prevent its spread; using intelligence analysts to track the disease; and setting up hotels for people infected by the virus and those requiring quarantine.

IDF Home Front Command soldiers hand out food packages in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Throughout the day, the commanders discussed the IDF’s preparedness for a second wave of the coronavirus, specifically the ways the Home Front Command operates in times of emergency and in command-and-control methods,” the military said in a statement.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government was gearing up for a potential large outbreak of the disease in light of a sustained increase in the number of cases throughout the country.

“We may already be in the midst of an infection doubling rate of less than 10 days,” he said. “We’ve decided to pull the ‘hand brake’ first of all, to halt easing [restrictions] and to reexamine the issue over the coming week,” Netanyahu said during a meeting of the so-called “coronavirus cabinet.”

At the meeting, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein noted that 800 new cases had been identified in the past week, as opposed to about 300 infections confirmed in the preceding two weeks combined.

The Health Ministry on Monday evening reported 186 more diagnosed cases since the evening before, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 18,049. The death toll remained steady at 298.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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