It was Lt.-Col. Eli Paz’s last two hours in military service.
45-year-old father of three just completed a fouryear stint last week as head of
the newly created Environmental Protection Division – a part of the Technology
and Logistics Branch – and retired to pursue academic studies in the
With boundless energy, Paz bounced around the room, projecting slides
and pointing to various figures, as he told his remarkable story of how the IDF
became conscious of the need to protect the environment under his
The story of the division began in 2004, when the IDF received a
scathing report from the State Comptroller’s Office, accusing it of being the
country’s single biggest polluter. In light of the fact that the military
controls 60 percent of state land, that accusation was very grave.
report detailed environmental offenses on a range of levels across the
“The army didn’t have a systematic plan to deal with its
environmental needs,” Paz told The Jerusalem Post last week. Four years later,
Defense Minister Ehud Barak produced a decree ordering the creation of the
The IDF searched for an officer to lead it, and locked in on
Paz, who at that time was head of fuel services, and had been pioneering ways to
refuel vehicles without spillages.
Paz, who has a PhD in environmental
protection, seemed like the natural choice.
Despite the appointment, “We
had no money, and no mission,” Paz recalled. “I was amazed by how far behind
we were compared to European armies, or the US military.”
The first thing
Paz did was launch an intensive study of what modern Western militaries do to
protect their environments.
He created a research body that routinely
observes progress in this field around the world, and releases detailed reports.
The body also reports on population density, water quality, climate change and
waste management in Israel.
Next, he set up an environmental protection
school to train commanders and non-commissioned officers. He ensured he received
powers to inspect and investigate those who fall foul of the policies he was
But even as he laid down the building blocks for the new
division, a year into his project, Paz realized he wouldn’t get very far without
the compliance of military brass. He found himself running into a wall of
“I was told, ‘leave me alone, this is the last thing on my
priority list,’” Paz said of one conversation he had with a senior
Preoccupied with planning operations and preparing for wars,
major-generals made no attempt to hide their lack of enthusiasm.
a breakthrough came, when the IDF came under pressure to clean up its act,
literally. Gilad Erdan, the new environmental protection minister, began
personally penalizing major-generals for pollution offenses, while green
organizations launched a high-profile campaign against the army. The press
followed suit, reporting on spills and acts of negligence.
“I was called
into the bureau of former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, and
asked what the army should do,” Paz said.
After laying out his vision,
Paz was given a budget of NIS 1 billion for 15 years, and Ashkenazi threw his
full weight behind the division.
That development has already saved the
army hundreds of millions of shekels, Paz maintained.
“Every year, we
were spending NIS 600 million a year on electricity, NIS 80m. for waste removal,
and NIS 50m. on water,” he noted.
Paz began mapping out past pollution
problems, formulated plans to prevent future pollution, and launched an
awareness campaign among commanders and officers.
With most IDF bases
constructed during the pre-1948 British mandate, some 160 of them are still not
connected to sewage systems, and do not recycle their sewage. Instead, the
sewage is dropped in cesspools, damaging the soil.
Paz’s solutions were
to biologically treat sewage in containers, or suck out the water waste, or
create wetland ecosystems to deal with the water. All three are being
He closed 120 gas stations that failed to meet
environmental standards, and launched inspections of bases to force them to
recycle waste and save on water and electricity.
bio-treatment projects, installed solar systems for electricity production, and
built sun-heated water tanks. He instituted new vehicle refueling techniques to
Today, the IDF uses 30 percent less water than it did in
2008. It runs programs to protect the natural habitats it trains in. And it is
building hybrid generators for energyefficient power production.
recycled, and asbestos is being removed from old armored personnel
“We haven’t treated these things for 60 years,” Paz
“Now, every commander gets a booklet with instructions on how to
carry out our policies.
The IDF must comply with the division’s vision
and policies,” he added.
“We will continue to pollute, as long as the IDF
exists, trains and protects the country,” Paz said. “A fighter jet burns up
20,000 liters of fuel on every flight, including during training. But it is
possible to safeguard the homeland, while looking out for the
Today, he added, the IDF is catching up
“There are sole areas I’m ahead in compared to other armies. In
others, we will catch up in three to four years,” he said. Within half a decade,
he vowed, the IDF will be a leader in the field.
As he walked out of his
office for the last time, Paz turned off the lights. Soon, he will be in the US
for a postdoctoral program on environmental protection.
Paz’s message to
his successor is simple: “I built you a car, piece by piece. Drive it forward.”