Officers 'find crooked ways' to okay tanks as combat-ready

Ombudsman fires fresh salvo in ongoing battle over IDF’s readiness for war

In letter to Knesset committee, Maj. Gen. (res) Brick says officers are ‘afraid’ to speak truthfully about military’s preparedness

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

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

A Defense Ministry ombudsman accused army commanders of lying about the military’s preparedness for war, in a letter sent to a powerful Knesset committee Wednesday, as part of an ongoing spat between the retired general and the IDF General Staff.

“What I’m presenting to you… you will not hear from the top brass of the IDF. Among many commanders, it’s not just that some aren’t aware, but that even those who are aware are afraid to tell, to bring it up, lest they be swallowed up,” wrote Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, formally known as the chief complaints officer in the Defense Ministry, in the letter, which was obtained by The Times of Israel.

His missive, parts of which were first published by Hadashot news Wednesday, was sent to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which has significant oversight powers.

Over the past year, Brick has led a campaign warning lawmakers and the public that the Israel Defense Forces is unprepared for war, with significant quantitative and qualitative disparities between what the military says it needs and what it actually has.

The army has roundly rejected Brick’s claims in recent months, yet IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot appointed a committee to investigate the allegations in September.

Fifty-six days after the colonel-led panel was given 45 days to render its initial report, no such document has been presented to Eisenkot, though the IDF said last week that it was expected to be delivered shortly.

In the six-page letter, Brick focused his criticism on the conditions of the military’s tanks and armored personnel carriers, saying the IDF’s statistics and assessments on them had been falsified in order to make them seem in better shape than they are.

Israeli soldiers clean the barrel of a tank cannon at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 2, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The management of the [emergency storage units] reminds me of studying for the psychometric exam — they just want to ‘raise the grade,'” Brick quoted an IDF officer as saying.

These emergency storage units — known by the Hebrew acronym yamach — are meant to organize and perform maintenance on weaponry and vehicles in order to keep them ready for battle.

According to Brick, the tanks and armored personnel carriers often arrive in need of days’ worth of maintenance, which is not performed, but non-commissioned officers in these units “find crooked ways” of passing the armored vehicles off as ready for combat anyway, another IDF officer told Brick, according to his letter.

“The work needed in order to fix a tank that’s back from training exercises takes at least two days… In practice, we work on the tanks for just a few hours, leave them with problems and look the other way,” a third officer is quoted by Brick as saying.

Israeli soldiers preparing their tanks along the Israeli-Gazan border for a possible ground operation inside Gaza on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, November 16 (Uri Lenz/ Flash90)
Israeli soldiers preparing their tanks along the Israeli-Gazan border for a possible ground operation inside Gaza on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense, November 16, 2012 (Uri Lenz/ Flash90)

According to the ombudsman, power outages and other infrastructure issues also cause significant damage to the tanks, especially in winter.

Brick called on lawmakers from the Knesset committee to meet with commanders in the field — rather than senior officers — in order to get better a sense of the situation.

“The gaps before us today require intensive work and foundational repairs. The mission will rest upon the shoulders of the incoming chief of staff,” he said, referring to Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who is expected to take over for Eisenkot next year.

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

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 soldiers’ complaints about the army. Investigating the military’s preparedness for war typically falls under the jurisdictions of the IDF, defense minister and state comptrollers.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott (C), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avi Dichter (R) and then-opposition leader Isaac Herzog attend a committee meeting at the Knesset, on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

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 Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“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.

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 has 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 in an earlier report.

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