The IDF feels the bite
Hebrew media review

The IDF feels the bite

Budget cuts pinch the army, forcing reevaluation of reserve activities; protests in Turkey remain as hot for the press as shwarma

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Illustrative: An Israeli reservist packs his gear after ending a deployment near Gaza during Operation Defensive Shield. (Tsafrir Abayov/ Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli reservist packs his gear after ending a deployment near Gaza during Operation Defensive Shield. (Tsafrir Abayov/ Flash90)

Just as things in Istanbul are starting to get heavy, the focus of the Israeli press shifts back home to the IDF’s financial woes. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Monday ordered a massive scale-back of reservist operations and training in an effort to tighten the army’s belt. While some ordinary Joe Israelis are content with fewer days off work to go to the army, the press expresses concern with how the cuts will affect national security.

Haaretz quotes Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon saying that the IDF’s financial situation is “critical” and that the cuts to reservist training and operations means “2014 will be a very tough year.” The Finance Ministry said that Ya’alon’s comments were aimed at trying to reopen the Defense Ministry’s annual budget, which got the ax to a tune of NIS 3 billion. A Finance Ministry official tells the paper that there’s nothing to fear in terms of the reservist scale down, because it will mostly affect rear-operating units.

Israel Hayom reports that in terms of reserve duty, IDF will give preference to infantry and tank units operating in the Gaza or Lebanon theaters, and that the remaining units will have baseline training to keep in shape. According to the paper, reservists took the news with mixed reactions. “Some were pleased that they’d be called up less to the reserves, but others noted that the cancellation would likely case a serious problem,” it writes.

Maariv writes that the “burden will fall on the active duty soldiers who will replace the reservists [in their duties]; they’ll train less and will earn fewer vacations.” The paper says that the IDF warns that because of the cutbacks “the army will have a hard time giving the state the best protection.” A Finance Ministry tells Maariv that the IDF is trying to scare the Knesset into voting against the defense budget cuts.

Yedioth Ahronoth writes that officers in the General Staff are afraid that the cuts will have “dramatic consequences” and will return the IDF to “the days before the Second Lebanon War,” meaning less effective, unprepared and corroding from within. But the cuts to reserves are not all, it reports. Along with them are a complete termination of female reserve duty units, cuts to active projects like David’s Sling, and cuts to thousands of active duty promotions, in addition to 3,000 cut a half a year ago.

While the IDF and Defense Ministry budgets are under the microscope and undergoing intensive surgery, Haaretz’s editorial calls for an end to secretive Shin Bet and Mossad budgets, which remain undisclosed to the public for security reasons.

“This lack of transparency has impaired public scrutiny of security expenditure, which represents a large chunk of the Israeli economy” — NIS 6 billion ($1.6 billion) as of 2012, the paper writes. Though the secret services claim they’re streamlined and economical, “when the watchful eye is distant, the temptation is great to inflate job slots, exaggerate salary increments and hike up pension conditions,” Haaretz writes.

“The time has come to stop playing hide-and-seek with the budget and present the annual cost of the secret services alongside the rest of the security establishment. There is no security risk in doing so.”

Maariv places Turkey on Page 2, reporting that amid intensifying clashes between demonstrators in Istanbul and the police “Erdogan attacks the protesters and flies to Morocco.” The paper also brings in a wire story about protesters gathering outside the offices of CNN Turk and NTV and objecting to their lack of coverage of the unrest.

Pulling a CNN Turk, Israel Hayom buries its Turkey coverage on Page 9, but at least it has a correspondent in Istanbul. Its reporter offers a brief glimpse at the divide in Turkey between those who are protesting against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the latter’s supporters. Whereas the European side of Istanbul is wracked with ceaseless riots, on the Asian side of the city, he writes,”where the Islamist population is concentrated, the merchants were busy calculating how much much money the average Iranian tourist had left over after a weekend vacation, the likes of which Istanbul has an infinite amount.”

“It’s all political,” the paper quotes textile merchant Rotan Osman saying. “What do they have against Erdogan? He turned Turkey into an economic power. People in Turkey live well.”

“The pampered protesters should go to eastern Turkey, near Syria. There there are poor people who die every day.”

Yedioth Ahronoth, having already called the protests “The Turkish Spring” on Sunday, calls it “The Young Turks Revolution” on Tuesday, harking back to the 1908 coup d’etat against the sultan in which Westernized Turkish secularists reinstated the Ottoman Parliament. Nahum Barnea, reporting from Istanbul, describes the clashes between “young protesters who were busily dismantling the paved sidewalks, equipped with swimming goggles and surgical masks” and the police who “retaliated with volleys of tear gas.”


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