It’s never easy to make cuts. Just ask Greece, Greece’s debtors, or the coach of Greece’s national football team. So it’s little surprise that a government report suggesting the Israeli army transform from a lumbering pension-laden dinosaur into a lean mean (but moral, always moral) fighting machine has military brass taking up arms against the proposed measures.
The fight between the army and government over how to slim down the army, with battle lines formed around the state-commissioned Locker report and a competing army proposal dubbed the Gideon plan, makes top story in all three dailies.
Haaretz’s top headline highlights the main recommendations of the Locker Commission’s report, which calls for the career officer corps to be slashed down to size, and mandatory service dropped from three years to two.
The biggest issue, though, seems to be the call by the panel headed by Yohanan Locker to lower the army’s pension commitments, which the paper reports may harm the army’s ability to attract top talent and which it quotes a senior officer calling “a bad joke.”
The paper’s Amos Harel notes that the issues relating to the standing army have mostly been already addressed and that the real battle will be over the cuts to career officers.
“Years of privileges, some of them extravagant, have created public hostility toward the conditions enjoyed by most of those who serve and a sense of inordinate waste. Now, when the Locker Committee wants to change the situation with several sweeping moves, there may be a real crisis that will make it problematic for the IDF to hold on to the better staff officers in its ranks,” he warns.
Harel also tries to handicap whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will endorse the report and take a rare stand against military expenditures or bury it like his predecessors did to previous recommendations, but comes up no wiser for trying.
For an idea, though, of where Netanyahu is leaning, one may look to Israel Hayom, seen as closely aligned with the prime minister, which leaves little room for doubt that he is siding with the army against Locker’s itty bitty military committee.
If the front page headline of “Inequity in service terms – a bullet between the army’s eyes” left anyone wondering where the paper stands, the inside headline of “Attacking the career army” resolves any lingering confusion.
Both headlines come from quotes attributed to senior officials, but the raking over the coals doesn’t end there.
“It makes no sense to cut the army by 30 percent,” the paper quotes a senior officer saying. “In the next decade the reality [on the ground] will not allow for a change in defense strategy. And if anyone thinks in another 10 years, or 20 years or 30 years they’ll be able to cut the army by 30%, that’s unrealistic.”
If that weren’t enough, commentator Dan Margalit piles on to the criticism, calling the deal “irresponsible” considering the threats facing Israel.
“The threats on Israel are tightening, with Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran and the Islamic State group receiving billions of dollars, and now Locker wants to make cuts to the army budget?” he asks incredulously. “The government already recklessly approved cutting mandatory service to 32 months, and now it wants to make it 24 months? And under what claim will Israel be able to request compensation from the Americans over the Iran nuclear deal? Sure, they’ll send guns and ammunition, but also dollars, and what will we tell our friends in Congress? That the American taxpayer should reach deeper into its pocket to add to funding the IDF so Israel doesn’t have to?”
Yedioth focuses on the competing austerity plan proposed by the IDF itself, which also calls for dramatic cuts, but leaves pensions in place. The paper puts the two plans into a historical context, turning the internal fight into a state-shaking event.
“Since the Yom Kippur War the IDF has always expanded. Divisions opened, standards were added and weapons were purchased. But all that is expected to come to an end,” the paper writes. “Five months after taking on the post, army chief Gadi Eisenkot presented yesterday his multi-year plan to make dramatic cuts in the IDF over the next four years. But it seems the preparations for the next war will give birth to a new battle, this one at home.”
Even if Netanyahu likes what Locker has to say, the paper’s military correspondent Alex Fishman writes that his panel’s recommendations were dead on arrival.
“When the three people at the center of building up the military force – the defense minister, IDF chief and head of the Defense Ministry – are not planning on implementing reforms to the army’s structure, it simply won’t happen,” he writes. “There’s no political power that can force a dramatic change on the defense sector without full cooperation from those who stand at its head. What’s more, even the prime minister or cabinet won’t go head to head with the army chief or defense minister, with the Iran deal and all its freighted consequences in the background, and an unstable coalition. Thus the fate of the plan presented by Yohanan Locker was doomed in advance.”
Keep quiet or go kamikaze?
The Iran agreement may have played a hand in sinking the Locker recommendations, but Haaretz reports that Netanyahu is refusing to declare the pact, adopted by the UN and EU on Monday, a done deal.
The broadsheet’s Barak Ravid writes that the prime minister must now decide whether to lick his wounds and run a quiet campaign against the deal while trying to repair ties with the White House, or loudly go kamikaze and crash his anti-deal plane right into the Capitol rotunda.
Netanyahu is keeping a low profile so far, he writes, but the country’s diplomatic corps is gloomily gearing up for an all-out fight.
“We are preparing for war, but in the meantime what have yet to hear the call to charge ahead,” an Israeli diplomat is quoted saying.
Even if Netanyahu wins the battle, though, Jerusalem may lose the war, Ravid warns.
“Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry are concerned about the ‘day after’ – regardless of whether the attempt to stop the Iran nuclear deal dead in its tracks in Congress is unsuccessful, and even more so if it succeeds, dealing Obama a painful and embarrassing political blow. The fear among officials is that the blowback from the administration could take form in the UN Security Council, with Washington abstaining from vetoing resolutions about the Palestinian issue,” he writes.
Yedioth could care less about the Iran deal and the approval of the UN, or as it’s known in Israel: Oom shmoom. But the tabloid devotes a full page to a state comptroller report on the government’s deal with companies looking to explore off-shore gas fields. While the watchdog found problems with pretty much every way the government handled the affair, commentator Sever Plotzker notes that all is not lost.
“As in common in these cases, when everybody is guilty, nobody considers himself particularly at fault,” he writes. “In this way the report is no different from previous special papers on housing policy and strengthening the Negev, with one difference: The failures and issues with housing and developing outlying areas had wide socioeconomic consequences that were much harder to repair than the problems with the gas, which can be partially fixed.”