The Great IDF Captains Crisis

The regular (permanent) service cadre of IDF is currently undergoing one of the most severe crises in its history. At the same time, the IDF conducts a training exercise and issues a massive technological tender. All in Amir Rapaport's weekly column

Photo: IDF

It is one of the most troubling issues as far as the Israeli defense establishment is concerned, but no one will speak about it publicly: the regular (permanent) service cadre of IDF is currently undergoing one of the most severe crises in its history. Some of the indications of this crisis: IDF seem unable to staff numerous positions normally staffed by officers at captain's rank, and the quality of regular (permanent) service individuals is declining alarmingly.

Assuming this trend continues, the characteristics of the IDF regular service cadre will become similar to those of the Israel Prison Service, the National Firefighting Service and the Israel Police.

As IDF normally pump the media with self-flattering information, talk about the severe regular (permanent) service crisis is only heard behind closed doors. The defense establishment is currently speaking, first and foremost, about a 'Captains' Crisis', as the 'flight' from regular service is reflected primarily among officers who complete their initial obligatory regular service term and rush to civilian life.

In the past, IDF knew how to keep a major share of their outstanding young officers in service, using lucrative wage and study programs and challenging jobs, but that is not the situation today.

Naturally, some outstanding officers sign on for regular service, but they become fewer and fewer. The bottom line: IDF face a shortage of hundreds of captain rank officers for initial regular service positions, mainly in the technological layouts. The situation is so grave that even at the cutting edge of defense technology, MAFAT (IMOD's Weapon System & Technological Infrastructure Research & Development Administration), many positions remain open.

Most of the positions in the combat and logistic units of IDF are staffed, but not with the first choice of officers IDF would have liked, not even with the second choice.

In the past, IDF have already experienced quite a few crisis situations with regard to the regular service cadre (the most severe crisis developed after the First Lebanon War, when poor wages and a flawed public image discouraged prospective regular service personnel from remaining in service). It took the IDF many years to repair the damage sustained in the years 1983–1985. Among other things, officers who began returning to service were treated to meteoric promotion at the expense of professionalism. In that period, officers were appointed to battalion commander positions at the ripe old age of 27.

The first indications of the present crisis started emerging after the Second Lebanon War, but recently the situation has deteriorated into a full-blown avalanche. Apart from the grave shortage of captain rank officers at key positions, anyone who has been monitoring IDF for any length of time can get the impression that the quality of the regular service personnel is on the decline. Professionals within the defense establishment say that the data are misleading: the grades awarded to regular service personnel in their periodic feedback and pre-promotion evaluations are relative, so the average will always remain the same.

Nevertheless, one bit of information has been repeating itself in recent years and causing serious concern among the top echelons of IDF: responding to the questionnaires of the IDF Behavioral Sciences Department, many regular servicemen state that they are looking for a job in civilian life while still serving in IDF. In fact, anyone who finds a decent job – leaves IDF. Today, it is relatively easy to leave at the age of 24–25. As the pension is funded rather than unfunded, the officers can take the privileges and benefits they had accumulated with them when they leave.

One of the causes of the "Captains' Crisis", mainly in the technological layouts of IDF, has to do with the tempting wage offers in civilian life, which normally include a company car, as the high-tech market is flourishing.

But, according to Col. (res.) Eyal Efrati, that is not the primary cause. Efrati had served as head of MAMDA, the IDF Behavioral Sciences Department, and today provides personnel selection services to most of the civilian security agencies.

"The situation is not about to change as long as regular service individuals at the age of 22-23 feel ashamed to wear their IDF uniforms in public in the civilian environment. The public image of the regular service is at an all-time low, not just because of the severe verbal attacks by Ministry of Finance officials.

"The problem is much more profound and stems from a profound change within Israeli society, as today, the Jewish mother does not really want her talented child to serve in IDF. The contract between Israeli society and the regular servicemen was violated, which will affect the quality of the regular (permanent) service cadre of IDF. This situation seems inevitable and its implications will be dramatic.

"It is important to understand that IDF will always manage to staff the positions of senior officers at major-general, brigadier-general and colonel rank with talented individuals, as these appointments involve a small number of people, and some population groups will continue to exist for whom regular service offers a tremendous opportunity for social mobility, but within the wider ranks of the military, the change is dramatic and the picture is alarming. We will not be able to maintain the miracle of the high-quality manpower of IDF."

The Training Exercise and What it means

The announcement by the IDF Spokesperson last Wednesday reported "the conclusion of an IDF GHQ training exercise intended to improve the preparedness of IDF for emergencies."

According to the announcement, a GHQ training exercise was conducted earlier this week with the intention of improving the competence of the IDF General Staff and its ability to command and conduct a confrontation involving a multiple-theater scenario. The exercise was conducted under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Shlomo (Sammy) Turjeman. In the context of the four-day exercise, the senior command echelons of IDF addressed various issues and practiced various scenarios that simulated the threats expected in a wartime situation.

The exercise was intended to verify the competence and preparedness of the various IDF layouts and organs in all of the sectors, including the regional commands, the IDF Home Front Command, the Operations, Intelligence, Logistics and C4I Directorates and the sea, air and land arms. It was further reported that the exercise had been planned well in advance as part of the training activity program for 2016, and that its objective was to improve the preparedness of IDF for emergencies.

Now, here is something that is somewhat less obvious than the official announcement: this was one of the most important training exercises IDF conducted in many years. During the exercise, significant changes in the IDF's methods of operation and operational concepts were put to the test. Among other things, the objective was to enhance the lethality of IDF strikes and improve the effectiveness of the solution for the missile threat in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon (beyond interception by the Iron Dome system). For obvious reasons, we are unable to elaborate on those new concepts. The process of drawing lessons from this massive exercise will take months to complete.

The Technological Tender

One of the most significant events of this week was the tender issued by IMOD for the massive project of relocating the information systems of the giant technological bases of IDF from the central region to the Negev.

This project involves the relocation of the bases of the IDF C4I Directorate initially, and the prestigious bases of the IDF Intelligence Directorate immediately thereafter.

The issuance of this tender, for which the world's leading corporations are expected to bid, has been delayed for a while for various reasons. In the last few months, the delay was the result of an argument between the IAF, the IDF C4I Directorate and the IDF Intelligence Directorate as to which organ would bear the cost of 200 million ILS associated with the project. The argument has been settled just recently, by way of a compromise.

With the issuance of the tender, the major bidders appear to be Rafael, IAI, and Bynet. Many other companies are involved in the bidding, hoping to land this billion-dollar budget.

The tender issued draws the deadline for the completion of the process of relocating the giant bases to the Negev in the years 2021-2022.


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