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Crunching the numbers

For the Israeli army on Passover, why are some statistics different?

On matzo meal and state secrets

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

A countable number of troops (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A countable number of troops (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The army does not generally like to reveal numbers. Figures on planes, helicopters, pilots, tanks, infantrymen, missiles and paratroopers, among others, are all kept secret. Whenever an IDF Spokesperson- approved conversation veers near the matter of troop numbers – whether it be in the IDF Rabbinate or in the Naval Commandos – it is quickly, and sternly, re-routed.

Yet last week the IDF posted on its website and discussed with reporters its shopping list for Passover.

One needn’t be a detective to crunch the numbers. If the IDF reports that it has purchased 25,000 liters of grape juice and each soldier is mandated by Jewish law to have four cups of the sweet drink, then anybody can come up with a fair idea of how many soldiers the IDF has kept on base during the night of the Passover seder. The arithmetic regarding the 155,000 pounds of matzo — based on, say, two pieces per meal, per soldier — might provide similar results.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office confirmed in answer to a question Monday that “Information regarding manpower cannot be disclosed. The information is sensitive and can be exploited by enemies for planning purposes that would impair the IDF’s capacity to operate freely.”

So why release the Passover food facts?

As quoted by The Times of Israel last week, Major Rabbi Asher Landau, the head of the kashrut department in the IDF rabbinate, listed the IDF’s Passover purchases as including: 220,000 pounds of matzo meal, 155,000 pounds of matzo, 7,500 pounds of meat for brisket, 25,000 liters of grape juice, 20,000 pounds of marble cake and some 30,000 pounds of powered kneidelach mix.

There seems to be an understanding within the army that “open-source intelligence,” such as Jane’s Defence magazine and Wikipedia, frequently offers enemy eyes all they might want to know about total troop numbers in the IDF.

Therefore, in the age of the internet, some statistics are more sensitive than others. For the IDF, it is understood, the chief concern is to keep quiet about the specific capacities of individual fighting units, and not the overall number of troops in uniform.

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