Ombudsman claims public will pay heavy price for ‘cover-up’ of army preparedness

Defense Ministry’s Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick rejects assessments by Knesset, army panels that IDF prepared for war, calls for establishment of new independent committee

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)
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)

Continuing his ongoing spat with the defense establishment, the Defense Ministry ombudsman launched a scathing attack Wednesday on the IDF comptroller, rejecting his report that the army is readier than ever to face a war and claiming that officials were engaged in a “cover-up” that would cost the public dearly.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, who has repeatedly asserted that ground forces are rife with problems in their readiness for conflict, called for the establishment of a new, objective committee to look into his claims of army inadequacies.

He thus rejected the findings of two committees that have examined his allegations and found the army in a good state: an IDF panel headed by IDF comptroller Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari, which released parts of its report Wednesday morning, and a Knesset committee staffed by legislators that made its report last week.

While both noted important issues needed fixing, they also found that the army was in its best shape in years, dismissing Brick’s doomsaying.

But Brick was thoroughly unconvinced, claiming the two committees’ public messages of reassurance stood in direct contradiction to the results of their probes.

Israeli army tanks participate in a drill near Revivim, southern Israel, Thursday, March 7, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israeli army tanks participate in a drill near Revivim, southern Israel, Thursday, March 7, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

“The cost of setting up an external commission of inquiry is nothing compared to the very heavy prices that will be paid in the next war if we do not set it up,” Brick said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Brick accused the IDF comptroller’s committee which produced the report of “pulling the wool over the eyes of the public with the message they are putting out, in which they are presenting the situation as normal and as having even improved in recent years.”

He also claimed that some of the retired officers who sat on the IDF committee have conflicts of interest, as they also represent civilian companies that have contracts with the military worth billions of shekels.

“Israeli citizens will pay a heavy price for the serious cover-up by the system and no one will be able to say I didn’t warn them,” he continued. “This is the first time in my ten years as ombudsman that I’ve met members of the IDF General Staff who are unable to accept criticism.

“I advise the senior command to stop playing games of ego and immediately get into the thick of things to correct the failures before it is too late.”

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.

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

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

The IDF assessment found “significant gaps” between Brick’s claims and “the results of our report.”

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

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.

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

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.”

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.

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.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed