A Storm in a Teacup

What stands behind the media storm regarding the meeting between IDF Chief of Staff Eizenkot and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak? Who was the actual intended audience of the things the ISA Chief said at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee? And why has the IDF failed in the integration of women in the IAF flying course? Amir Rapaport's weekly column

Lieberman, Eizenkot and Zamir (Photo: Ariel Hermoni, IMOD)

The security review delivered this week by the Head of the ISA at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset was not intended just for the ears of the attending Members of Knesset. It was also aimed at another, absent audience – the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the commanders of the Palestinian security organizations.

The review focused, quite naturally, on the processes and developments in the Judea and Samaria district and the Gaza Strip. ISA Chief Nadav Argaman said in front of the cameras that the relative quiet we have been experiencing is misleading. According to Argaman, under the surface things are sizzling. Admittedly, there has been a decrease in the number of attacks, but the main reason for it was the successful prevention of hundreds of attacks, including severe terrorist attacks.

The latent message to the Palestinian Authority was conveyed through leaks from the confidential review Argaman delivered to the Committee. According to the leak, Argaman said that Abu Mazen, the Head of the Palestinian Authority, is very weak and that in the event of a reshuffle, it would not be inconceivable for Hamas to dominate the Judea and Samaria district, as was the case in the Gaza Strip. ISA does not expect the Palestinian reconciliation agreement to last very long. The scenario Argaman outlined is the nightmare scenario as far as the PLO is concerned: the Israeli defense establishment is aware that the real reason for the security cooperation in the prevention of terrorist attacks is not altruistic love for Israel, but concerns about Hamas' ascent to power, like the murderous coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. These concerns are fueled occasionally.

Similarly, the ISA had shared information regarding Hamas' plan for a coup in the Judea and Samaria district during the difficult days of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Occasionally, the ISA reminds the leaders of PLO, in various ways, that they are advised, according to their own considerations, to keep on fighting Hamas. The frequency of these reminders increases when Hamas operatives in the Judea and Samaria attempt to lift their head up, as they have been doing in the tense days since the declaration of the Trump administration that recognized Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel. Even if Argaman's statements have no effect on the Palestinian target audience, they will definitely do no harm. The security coordination between the Palestinian security organizations and the ISA continues.

Gadi, Ehud & Avigdor

The strange story of this week has to do with a speech delivered by Ehud Barak, to the effect that the right-wing government might lead to mass insubordination in the IDF. As reported by Amit Segal of Channel 2 News, Barak said those things on the marginal stage of the "Banana Festival" in the Jordan Valley, just a day after he had met, at his home, with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot. The meeting had taken place last Wednesday.

Even if this turns out to be a groundless conspiracy theory, sources associated with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and possibly a few sources within the IDF as well estimated that Ehud Barak had set a trap for the Chief of Staff and "used" him in order to make the headlines. Either way, Eizenkot became involved in this affair, at least as far as the media are concerned. The explanations provided by the IDF, according to which Eizenkot meets regularly with former senior IDF officers for consultations did not help. His visit to the private residence of the Prime Minister's opponent, who's currently heading a political campaign against the government, was promptly used as ammunition against Eizenkot in the political arena and the social media.

However, even if this affair left its mark on the relations between Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman and the IDF Chief of Staff, it was not evident during a joint visit they held on Tuesday to a divisional training exercise in the south. In a group photograph, taken by official IMOD photographer Ariel Hermoni, showing the two with the general commanding IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, they appear relaxed and friendly. The relations between them, so it appears, remain businesslike. Next week, Eizenkot will enter his last year in office. It is important to remember, in this context, that Minister of Defense Lieberman granted Eizenkot his fourth year in office (an almost full year. Eizenkot will end his term on December 31, 2018), without pulling rank on him, like past defense ministers had done when they used the extension of the Chief of Staff's term in office as a weapon (or "carrot").

Here is a less-familiar bit of information regarding Eizenkot and Lieberman: Eizenkot is not the only one who takes the trouble to consult occasionally with former senior officers of the Israeli defense establishment (with or without political background). Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman also invites former senior IDF officers to his office, for eye-to-eye consultation sessions. Some of these former officers express serious concerns about the IDF's force build-up under Eizenkot's leadership, as well as about the preparedness and competence of the military for the next war. Lieberman listens with interest and continues to rely on Eizenkot.

Resounding Aerial Failure

The grotesque media festival around the pilot's wings awarded this week to the newly-graduated female IAF pilot L. (a photograph of L. being hugged by her grandmother appeared as the top headline of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot this week – no less), reflects, more than anything else, the resounding failure of the IAF with regard to the integration of women in the flying course. If, almost 20 years after the inclusion of female cadets in the course had begun (pursuant to the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Alice Miller), every new female pilot is still an attraction, then it is time to admit that the effort has been in vain.

These are the actual facts: the percentage of female pilots among the air crews of the IAF is very small indeed. Of the 48 women who graduated from the flying course in the past, none have been appointed to any major command positions.

A former senior IDF source, who is very knowledgeable about this issue, claimed that "the IAF presses on with the Herculean effort of integrating women in the flying course, only because of the fantastic public relations this generates and the fear of the feminist lobby. If we still do not see 10-12 female graduates in every graduation ceremony, then the entire effort associated with the integration of women in the flying course is not worth it. The situation is similar in the naval officer course of the IDF Navy, where the percentage of female graduates is even lower than it is in the IAF.

"It is time to admit that there is no real chance for a significant change in this situation. As long as the IAF continues to screen 10,000 male conscripts each year and selects only the best, while screening only a few hundreds of female conscripts, it will be extremely difficult to get a serious mass of female pilots to the finishing line. A major percentage of the higher-quality female candidates do not volunteer for the IAF selection or fail to enlist in the IDF altogether – like the girls of the 'National Service.'

"Israeli society does not really encourage the female candidates to volunteer for the flying course. In the existing situation, for every new female pilot, the IDF loses along the way dozens of girls who had dreamt of becoming pilots, and could have served in other highly meaningful positions, like the major cyber layouts.

"In my view, after almost 20 years, it is time to relinquish the concept of girls in the aircrews, just as everyone accepts the fact that there are no female warfighters in the paratroopers. Unfortunately, there is no one brave enough to stand up and state the naked truth out loud. Instead, everyone is celebrating with L. and her grandmother. Today, 94% of the other military occupational skills are open to female conscripts, and they should be utilized in those positions."

In the IAF they tried to preempt the criticism and presented a program for increasing the number of female flying course graduates.

Or Heller has recently reported in Israel Defense that the IAF decided to initiate two measures in order to encourage more female conscripts to start the flying course: secure high-quality, coveted positions in operational and technological units, like fighter squadrons, for female flying course dropouts, as well as significant promotion of female officers to senior positions in IAF: from Col. Dr. Yifat Ehrlich, the IAF's Chief Medical Officer, through the first female transport pilot who's currently a trainee in the squadron commander course, to Maj. E., who was recently appointed as the IAF's first female deputy commander of a fighter squadron. "We are exhausting the male candidate pool and there is no reason why we should not utilize 50% of the population to increase the pool of candidates for the course, so as to have more high-quality male and female pilots eventually," explained the commander of the IAF Flying School, Col. Omer. "I am in favor of compelling female conscripts to take the flying course."

In the IAF they do not intend to initiate informative and persuasive activities among female high-school students, but the measure outlined above – securing high-quality, coveted positions for female flying course dropouts, had been recommended by serving female pilots during a special seminar held to discuss this issue. Incidentally, some of the female pilots avoided the seminar, owing to their reluctance to 'make a big issue' of the fact that they are women.

The Head of the IAF Personnel Division, Brig. Gen. Nathan Israeli, stated that "There is no decrease in motivation to take the flying course, and with regard to a candidate for national service who has a high personal score and is also suitable for service with Unit 8200, the topmost priority will be to assign him/her to the flying course. Our decision to encourage more female candidates to take the flying course does not stem from an agenda, but rather from an operational need. They can upgrade the flying school and the IAF as a whole. There is nothing gender-related about executing an operational flight. The point in time where we are right now regarding this issue is not good enough, and we must improve."