Knesset report finds IDF’s readiness has ‘significantly improved’ since 2014 war

Investigating ombudsman’s repeated claims of woeful state of preparedness for combat, MKs find problems exist, but rules army is in overall good shape

IDF soldiers seen near tanks at an army base near the border with the Gaza Strip, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
IDF soldiers seen near tanks at an army base near the border with the Gaza Strip, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Knesset committee on Wednesday filed a largely positive report on the Israel Defense Forces’ preparedness for war, following repeated claims by the Defense Ministry ombudsman of significant gaps in the army’s readiness for new conflict.

While the report noted that problems exist — ones also acknowledged by the IDF — it assessed 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.”

The Defense Ministry ombudsman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak 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.

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)

He has also lambasted the IDF’s changes to manpower in recent years which have seen the number of career soldiers significantly scaled back.

The report by the Subcommittee for Readiness and Continuous Security, which was ordered by the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC), found that gaps exist, and there is broad agreement on where improvements must be made between IDF officials and supervisors, but the significance of those problems was a matter of disagreement.

The report, led by MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), himself a former colonel, made several “utmost priority” recommendations to the army, among them: an urgent raise for low-level non-commissioned officers to ensure the best remain in service; orders ensuring that problems raised in reports are monitored and rectified, under the supervision of the deputy chief of staff; ensuring that plans and schedules for emergency draft factor the likelihood of massive enemy fire on major routes and emergency storage warehouses, and drilling for such scenarios.

It also made a number of “high priority” recommendations including increased regular deployment of reserve units to boost their preparedness, replacing the military’s ageing fleet of cargo trucks as dictated by current plans, and improving the integration of digital control systems in infantry.

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev holds a press conference at the Knesset on November 30, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bar Lev said upon release of the report that “there are weaknesses, but most have been identified, and some have been pointed out in this report.” But he added that the manpower situation was “critical” and should supersede further technological purchases.

“Non-commissioned officers in preliminary permanent service must have their wages raised, even if it comes at the expense of an addition F-35 squadron.”

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.

And in a missive to the FADC he warned that army officers were not telling the truth about shortfalls.

Brick has said he bases his reports on conversations with commanders in the field rather than the military’s top brass. He called on lawmakers from the Knesset committee to do so as well in order to get better a sense of the situation.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, and other senior officers visit an IDF Commando Brigade exercise in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The committee said it had interviewed numerous ground-level commanders and toured emergency warehouses and other sites as it compiled its report.

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.

The army’s leadership has roundly rejected Brick’s criticism. In spite of this in September IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot appointed an internal army committee to investigate the allegations.

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 wrote in a letter to members of the security cabinet and the FADC.

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

Lawmakers have acknowledged that Brick does not technically have oversight for the issues he’s raising, but cited the retired major general’s extensive military career as a reason to take seriously his concerns.

Cypriot National Guard chief Llias Leontaris, center, visits a joint Israel-Cyprus exercise with Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, of the IDF’s 98th Division, at the Israeli army’s Tzeelim training base in southern Israel on October 25, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, chief of staff of the Ground Forces Command, who bears command responsibility for many of the concerns Brick raised in the committee, told lawmakers earlier this month he partially agreed with the ombudsman.

There were gaps in needed manpower, he said, as well as budget shortages when it came to stocking equipment the ground forces will need in wartime.

“We’re doing everything we can to ready the army” for war, Gordin said, but added, “There are resource gaps and the defense budget is limited.”

However, he insisted, “the army is a very well-supervised organization” that works hard to identify such problems and correct them… The army, in my view, has done a great deal to correct shortcomings over the years.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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