ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Planeloads of combat gear arriving, will get to soldiers soon – IDF, Defense Ministry

En route are over 50,000 ceramic vests, more than 20,000 helmets, tens of thousands of items such as protective glasses and knee protectors

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Soldiers wave as they hold an Israeli flag on top of a tank near the border with Lebanon, October 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Soldiers wave as they hold an Israeli flag on top of a tank near the border with Lebanon, October 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

More than 50,000 ceramic vests, over 20,000 helmets, and tens of thousands of combat items such as protective glasses and knee protectors are on their way to Israel, according to a joint statement by the Defense Ministry, the IDF, and the Association for the Well-being of Soldiers, issued Saturday evening.

Hundreds of thousands of items of equipment have already been approved and will be sent out to army units in the coming days, the statement said.

Joint teams have dealt with “thousands of concrete offers to provide (donate) equipment of different kinds,” it went on.

And Defense Ministry officials at the airport have released “thousands of items of personal protective gear,” including ceramic plates, gloves, and flashlights, while joint teams of experts from the Defense Ministry and the army have carried out dozens of checks of equipment to ensure that it is safe.

The statement followed the release on Thursday of contact details for individuals or organizations wanting to donate large quantities of personal protective equipment to soldiers. The email address is Trumot_migun@mod.gov.il. The telephone number (+972 should be added for overseas calls) is 073-3538888.

That announcement also said that cash donations could be made through the association on *3399, with all donations going towards soldiers’ welfare, “according to the needs determined by the IDF.”

Some 360,000 reserve soldiers have been mobilized since Hamas launched its brutal assault on the communities close to the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians.

IDF armored and infantry reserve units training in the Golan Heights before heading south to the Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Since then, soldiers and units from across the army have complained about substandard military equipment and weapons, especially a lack of vests with ceramic plates, which protect against bullets and shrapnel.

Countless civilian groups have sprung up in Israel to raise funds for, buy, and distribute that equipment directly to the troops.

They have mobbed army supply stores in Israel, and many have tried to source equipment from overseas.

A reserve soldier from the infantry wearing equipment issued by the army, October 9, 2023. (Courtesy)

A war of words between military reservists, the army, and the Defense Ministry has left many people in Israel and overseas confused.

On Monday, the third day of the war, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari denied there were shortages and said the issue was simply a logistical one.

On Tuesday, the IDF launched a round-the-clock hotline on WhatsApp on 052-6156256 to respond to soldiers with questions about equipment, logistics, food, or anything else that was missing.

It invited journalists to see a large military warehouse and published photographs of soldiers and volunteers working hard to pack equipment for the field.

Groups around the world began to send military gear — including a chartered flight full of it — on Saturday evening, just hours after the deadly Hamas assault had begun, according to a source who asked not to be named and who forms part of a volunteer group helping the Defense Ministry procure donated equipment.

“That gear was easily available, which usually means it doesn’t meet the specifications,” the source said.

Uniforms and protective vests are being prepared for distribution to reserve soldiers, October 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The volunteer group’s members have extensive experience with international logistics and supply lines, both military and humanitarian.

They are helping the Defense Ministry’s Logistics Directorate to coordinate between the ministry, defense ministries overseas, and the “hundreds” of Jewish and Christian groups in the US and Europe that are raising funds, trying to source equipment, and even chartering airplanes at a cost of $600,000 to $1 million per flight to ensure that Israeli soldiers are properly prepared for battle.

The source who spoke to The Times of Israel said, “There’s frustration at the unit and individual level. People are asking why they haven’t got what they need.”

But he stressed that it was a “logistics and supply chain nightmare” to mobilize so many reserve soldiers within such a short time. “There are few, if any, nations in the world that can call up that many reservists and have everything ready to go,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

FILE: El Al airplanes on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

He explained that one of his group’s key roles was to ensure that equipment shipped to Israel met Defense Ministry specifications, as well as regulations, such as ITAR in the US — International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The latter limit and control the export of defense and military-related equipment, and exporting such equipment without approval is a major federal offense.

“If you export from the US or the EU, there are export requirements for anything with a ballistic rating on it, such as ceramic panels, or ballistic helmets. In the US, this requires Department of Defense and Department of Commerce approval. The EU and UK have their own regulations. The Israeli Defense Ministry must approve the imports, and inform customs that the shipments are exempt.”

“The Defense Ministry has a clear policy, a list of requirements for combat-related gear. It’s not new,” he went on. “And the process is in place.” He added that while the rules were clear, the paperwork cycle was “brutal.”

“My volunteer group helps to ensure that everyone is dotting their i’s and t’s rather than throwing away millions of dollars.”

Israeli soldiers walk past houses destroyed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza Strip, October 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“We’re coordinating with Jewish groups, federations, businessmen and women, you name it, from the religious and secular Jewish world, and the evangelical Christian one,” he continued.

Approved shipments began arriving Sunday, but everything that touched down was taken into storage.

That was until a meeting on Wednesday at which the Finance Ministry explained to the Defense Ministry and the Tax Authority how to deal with donations, including military equipment.

The Kirya, IDF Headquarters, buildings seen from the Sarona Market in central Tel Aviv, on March 21, 2018. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Whatever was in storage was then inspected, catalogued, and distributed to the field if it met the specifications, the source said.

Starting Thursday, shipments were being dealt with and sent out on the same day, he added.

The IDF knew what was due to arrive each day, and from where, he explained. They saw the flight manifests and packing lists before each flight took off and were able to coordinate with the customs service to speed things through.

The source said that some of the equipment that arrived without the proper documents was tested anyway. Ceramic plates were shot at to test them, for example. “If it’s not up to par, it’s simply wasting the defense establishment’s time to send it,” he said.

Bulletproof vests and ceramic plates being prepared for distribution to reserve soldiers, October 10, 2023. (Israel Defence Forces)

The donations are helping to plug gaps while the defense establishment goes through the steps needed to secure government funds.

Many donors and donor groups have been responding to requests from specific soldiers or units for specific gear.

The source said, “I’ve been asked by many soldiers and groups and units who know what my team is doing why someone higher up won’t approve them receiving stuff from a donor.”

“Donors can make requests, but they can’t decide where the equipment goes. The Defense Ministry and the IDF have to make very hard decisions about where the materials should go, based on the command and control picture they have at that time.”

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