Ready or Not?

Tempers continued to flare this week in connection with the military's preparedness for war after the IDF committee appointed to look into this matter rejected the conclusions of the Military Ombudsman. Amir Rapaport's weekly column attempts to put some order into the readiness state of the IDF

IDF warfighters in training (Photo: IDF)

One of the first moves Gadi Eizenkot made after entering the office of IDF Chief of Staff was reopening the five-year force build-up plan “Gideon,” reaffirmed by his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, during his last days in office.

“Do not waste your time. Do not rely on the existing plan,” Eizenkot told the people of the IAF. Within weeks, he informed them and the people of the Intelligence Directorate that their budgets will be truncated in order to add about 2.2 billion ILS per year for improving the combat readiness of the ground forces.

So, how did it happen that during Eizenkot's last few weeks in office, he is compelled to refute a scathing report regarding the combat readiness of the ground forces, formulated by the Military Ombudsman (Chief Complaints Officer), Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, who is also about to step down in the coming days?

The report by Maj. Gen. Brick, who exceeded his authority, namely – dealing with complaints from service personnel, by addressing the broad issue of IDF combat readiness, was a source of major embarrassment to the IDF. A special sub-committee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by MK Omer Bar-Lev, which visited the emergency storage depots of the IDF (among other installations), rejected a substantial portion of Brick's criticism last week.

Last Monday, two reservist general officers, Avi Mizrachi and Doron Almog, attended the weekly meeting of the IDF General Staff. These two officers had formulated a report of their own, which relied on the work of a team of about 100 reservists acting on behalf of the IDF Comptroller, Brig. Gen. (res.) Ilan Harari (the IDF Comptroller is an internal IDF organ, contrary to the Comptroller of the Defense Establishment at IMOD, the State Comptroller or the Military Ombudsman). The IDF subsequently published some unclassified portions of this report, which stated that “There has been a significant improvement in the competence and readiness of the ground forces.” The team that composed this report agrees with Maj. Gen. Brick that there are gaps in several aspects of the IDF combat readiness, like logistics, personnel, the assimilation of the TZAYAD (Digital Land Army) system, and the service of NCOs at the emergency storage depots.

“The team’s recommendation to the Prime Minister is to allocate a long-term external budget, including an additional 1.5 to 2.5 billion ILS for the retention of the capabilities of the ground forces. The review team totally rejects Brick's claims regarding the existence of a culture of deceit in the IDF.”

In response, the Military Ombudsman published excerpts from a message he had received from the commander of a reserve battalion, who wrote: “Brick, good evening, two months ago I spent two days at my unit’s emergency storage depot. I brought along warfighters from the (battalion's) companies. We unpacked all of our (emergency) equipment, checked each and every item and repacked everything. The amount of shortages was appalling. In some cases, they had replaced the good equipment items with other equipment items of inferior quality.” Brick claimed that “This is the situation at the emergency storage depots,” and that “Many battalion commanders and their troopers are not even familiar with the situation.”

A Huge Gap

The dramatic disparity between Brick’s claims and the position maintained by the IDF and the Mizrachi-Almog Committee may be attributed to the fact that Brick belongs to a generation that had experienced the trauma of the Yom-Kippur War (1973), but to other reasons as well. One of these reasons has to do with the fact that the additional budget allocated to the ground forces during Eizenkot's term in office was far from sufficient to fill a huge gap, formed over twenty years of repeated budget cuts and total preference of the budgets allocated to the IAF, the Intelligence Directorate, and the cyber activity. As far back as the end of the previous millennium, the Commander of the IDF Field Forces in those days, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ivri-Sokenik, threatened that the troopers would have no platforms to go to battle with, as the IDF had dramatically cut the acquisition of armored fighting vehicles. “Troopers would have to walk or ride horses to the battlefield,” Ivri-Sokenik had said back then, to the ridicule of the Ministry of Finance and the media.

On June 29, 2003, the Commander of the IDF Ground Arm in those days, Maj. Gen. Yiftach Ron-Tal (who currently serves and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Israel Electric Corporation), wrote a personal letter to the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, after the budget for the ground forces had been truncated by not less than 25% in that year: “No fire support, as precise as it may be, and no aerial force can capture territory and defend it for any length of time. The acuteness of this observation is becoming progressively duller throughout the IDF. It is a trend – even a snowball effect – that feeds and builds upon itself, and I am concerned about it and must warn against it.”

In those days, Yiftach Ron-Tal’s chief of staff was Avi Mizrachi, who eventually commanded the IDF Ground Arm himself – one of the two officers who submitted their report this week. While Benny Gantz was the Commander of the IDF Ground Arm, he also wrote scathing letters, demanding that the budget for the ground forces be increased. Apparently, he changed is preferences when he ascended the throne of IDF Chief of Staff.

Uneven Readiness

It is important to note that Eizenkot's additional budgets did not permeate to all of the ground setups. Over the last few years, the General Staff selected several IDF divisions as "core" divisions – the ones most likely to take part in the next war, and invested substantial budgets in those divisions. Many other setups still suffer from inferior quality logistic equipment.

Mobility Problem

The mobility problem of the IDF Ground Arm is profound and includes other issues in addition to the shortage in APCs for the troopers. In the field of logistic vehicles, the situation is even worse than the fighting vehicle issue. As hard to believe as it may be, as we face the beginning of the year 2019, most of the trucks in the IDF (more than 80%!) are old US REO (M35 2.5-ton cargo) trucks. The IDF received some of these trucks from US Army surplus after the Vietnam War, approximately when Chief of Staff Eizenkot was born. The worst absurd in this state of affairs is the fact that these trucks cannot be driven as they have asbestos brake pads, which violate the regulations of the Israel Ministry of the Environment. These regulations will only be “frozen” in the event of a war, at which time the vintage trucks (the ones whose drivers manage to start up), will hit the road.

Personnel Problem

Another gap has to do with the fact that the members of the committees spoke mainly to officers and senior commanders (including six major generals), while Brick senses the “grass roots” through the frustration of NCO's earning close to minimum wage and suffering from a severe shortage of labor, after the IDF had cut away thousands of positions in the context of the "Gideon" long-term plan. The junior officer and NCO ranks, mainly in the not-so-glamorous ground units, suffer from an on-going morale and personnel crisis, which could lead to a situation where the IDF would become a standard public service workplace, similar to the Israel Police and Israel Prison Service, for example.

A Confidence Issue

This could be one of the most serious problems the ground forces are facing: many in the political echelon doubt the ability of the ground forces to bring about an overbalance in a war, and even question whether these forces are even necessary in order to achieve such an outcome – an echo of what Ron-Tal had written in his letter in 2003. In his meeting with the IDF General Staff a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister and newly appointed Minister of Defense, Benjamin Netanyahu, presented his credo, listing five elements that highlight the strategic strength of the IDF. The ground forces were not among them. Many in the IDF believe that before anything else, the confidence of the political echelon in the IDF ground forces and the recognition of their importance must be restored.

The IoT Era Begins in Earnest

Meanwhile, the intensive events in the north prove that wars are not theoretical. Operation Northern Shield against the Hezbollah tunnels continues as planned, while last Tuesday's airstrike deep inside Syrian territory, once again attributed to Israel, proves just how volatile the situation in that sector is.

At the strategic level, the importance of the meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu held with the prime ministers of Greek and Cyprus at the National Cyber Center in Be’er-Sheva last Thursday begins to emerge. At that meeting, they discussed potential cooperation in laying a gas pipe between Israel and Europe, as well as potential cooperation in the field of cyber.

At the same time, in its last legislative act this week, the Knesset endorsed the additional clauses of the Cyber Law, which assigns to the Israeli National Cyber Directorate the responsibility for defending the infrastructures of the State of Israel against cyberattacks, with the exception of communications (which are the responsibility of the ISA). Yigal Unna, the Director-General of the Israeli National Cyber Directorate, attended the important meeting of the three prime ministers.

In the field of infrastructures, a first step was made toward connecting Israel to billions of new Internet addresses, in preparation for the Internet of Things (IoT) era, where countless components and devices will be interconnected, mainly over fifth-generation Internet infrastructure.

Last Thursday, the Director-General of the Ministry of Communications, Brig. Gen. (res.) Netanel (Nati) Cohen, published the guidelines of the government tender for investments in the mega-infrastructure required for the new era. The State will offer incentives to cellular companies and to the investors who would associate with them, but they will not hasten to pour in the necessary funds.