Reserve soldiers from all over the country complained on social media Sunday that they were not properly equipped by the military for anticipated large-scale operations, with many seeking to privately purchase the required gear.
Israel on Saturday began drafting tens of thousands of reservists after the Hamas terror group launched a devastating assault into Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing over 700 people and kidnapping over 100.
But as reservists began reporting to their units near Gaza, in the West Bank, and at the northern border, complaints started coming in about a lack of equipment, with many fighters focusing on the need for ceramic plates for their protective vests. The plates help to prevent projectiles such as bullets from penetrating the vest.
On Monday morning, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari denied there were shortages and said the issue was simply a logistical one.
“There is no shortage of equipment in the IDF. It takes time to move some of the equipment, but there is no shortage,” Hagari said.
Nevertheless, many sought to privately secure the equipment they need.
On Sunday, army suppliers Marom Dolphin in Alon Tavor, northern Israel, was buzzing, as teenage volunteers filled boxes with army gear for delivery, and soldiers, or their friends and relatives, jostled to buy vests with soft or hard body armor plates.
By the evening, the highest level of hard (ceramic) body plate had run out, with the office promising to bring more from the factory on Monday, they reported.
Online, a reservist from the elite Engineering Corps unit Yahalom wrote, “We were given vests, but while most of them are new, they’ve been in storage for decades and there is no room in them for ceramics or equipment that a fighter should be supplied with to go into combat.”
Alon Peretz, 25, from Netanya on the central coast, wrote on WhatsApp, “Friends, I need urgent help. I must buy 100 ceramic vests and another 120 helmets.”
Peretz, who was set to join his Border Police unit on Monday, works as a fundraiser for startup companies. He returned from vacation overseas on Saturday and, on hearing that soldiers needed equipment, helped set up a group called Civilian Fundraising.
“We have teams of fighters without proper helmets, without vests,” he told The Times of Israel, citing the names of elite and regular infantry units that had submitted equipment requests. Some of the fighters were in the Gaza area, others on the border with Lebanon.
The 12 men running Civilian Fundraising — six in Netanya and another six in nearby Herzliya — also include Maor Udi, a reserve airforce technician, who distributes supermarket food to homes for a living and has a background in logistics.
“You can’t believe how quickly word is spreading,” he said. “We opened the first group at 9 p.m. last night and by 1 a.m. there were 600 people.” Since then, another four groups have been launched. “Some people want to help, others are on bases without equipment. I don’t know where the government is, where the army is. We’re trying to give the best help we can.”
Amit, from a different WhatsApp group (he asked to withhold his surname), was raising money to buy vests and other equipment for reservists in a tank company that he commanded from the last Gaza War in 2014 until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as a conscripted soldier and then as a career soldier. He is now recognized as disabled and is not called up for reserve duty.
“We have around 50 fighters training and getting their tanks ready in the south, and they all need vests in case they need to leave their tanks,” he said. “Our first priority is to get ceramic vests for the tank commanders, those who put their heads outside the hatch and are therefore the most exposed.”
The tank teams also needed flame-resistant Nomex gloves but these cannot be purchased in Israel, he said.
Amit said he was trying to get hold of gloves from soldiers who had been released from military duty and no longer needed them.
He was also turning for help to relatives and friends in the US and asking Israelis abroad who had been mobilized and were flying back to Israel to go to an army store and buy a couple of vests to put in their suitcases.
“I don’t know if the problem is that they (the IDF) haven’t opened the storerooms yet” but he was getting constant messages for help, he said.
Sam Cogan, 27, who is exempt from reserve duty because of an injury sustained during training for an explosives unit, heard from his army buddies on the Lebanon border that there was little food, no basic equipment, no flashlights to see at night, kneepads, goggles or hydration packs. It was also freezing cold.
On Sunday, Cogan and his sister shopped for nonperishable food items such as dried sausages and instant noodles, along with flashlights, kneepads, and portable camping stoves to make hot water and coffee.
Having spent NIS 20,000 (around $5,000), Cogan opened a GoFundMe page at 4 p.m. to raise $5,000. By 8 p.m., the account had $8,000.
Cogan’s mother, Lainie Blum Cogan, remembered buying kneepads for the entire squad when her son was in active service.
“Infantry soldiers are treated very poorly in terms of food and equipment,” she said.
The issue of a lack of supplies for soldiers has been ongoing, despite optimistic pronouncements from politicians.
In January 2019, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared during a surprise visit to a weapons depot at the Sirkin base in central Israel that the military was “ready for the day the order is given,” and prepared to deliver a “crushing attack.”
The visit came in the wake of a report and subsequent statements from Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, then the chief complaints officer at the Defense Ministry, about the poor standards of the army’s emergency storage units, among other things.
Saying that his claims were based on conversations with commanders in the field rather than military top brass, Brick 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 in a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria.