(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since becoming IDF chief of staff in February, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has repeatedly said that he knows that the army’s greatest asset is “public trust.” The newly released Locker Commission report about the defense budget and its ramifications is an excellent opportunity for him to prove that his words are not just a slogan.
The report is an important document that, if adopted – and it deserves to be adopted – could generate a genuine social, economic and military revolution. It was written out of deep respect for the IDF and a conviction in the importance of the army and its personnel who are serving the State of Israel. But it was also written with the intention of improving the efficacy of the army and making it trimmer, stronger, and more operational.
The report’s recommendations are reasonable and fair. It is high time there be full transparency in the defense budget and that the Treasury, the prime minister, and the entire government supervise it as is required in a democratic state. It is time to put an end to the craze of military pensions enabling soldiers who do not hold crucial or combat positions to retire with handsome pensions in their early or mid-40s.
To be honest, there is a lot of common ground between the Locker Report and the Gideon document, the code name given by the IDF to its new long-term working plan. Locker recommends allocating the IDF a four-year budget that would enable it to set its horizons in advance. Gideon is also a four-year plan. Locker proposes that the military budget be NIS 59 billion annually (which would include the allocations for pensions and disabled veterans). The IDF itself is envisioning NIS 61b. as a reasonable and satisfactory figure. The gap between the two is not impossible to bridge.
Both Yohanan Locker and Gadi Eisenkot agree that it is necessary to lower the age of commanders with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and colonel and to enhance the benefits for field commanders and combatants at headquarters’ expense.
There are nonetheless differences of opinion regarding the length of compulsory service. As of now, the first class of male conscripts that will serve 32 months has just been conscripted.
Locker suggests that, within four years, the length of service be reduced to 24 months and that those in vital positions – such as combat – receive adequate compensation to extend their service.
And then of course there is the question of pensions, in which the two approaches will be difficult to reconcile – but not impossible. Locker wants the pensions restructured and Eisenkot is reluctant to see that change. With the right will and intentions, even this hurdle can be overcome.
The issue here is not one of principle.
It is a power struggle infused with ego and honor. The IDF and its chief are hurt that a former senior army officer, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker, until recently considered one of them, did not bother to consult with them ad nauseam. In the appendix of his report, however, he details the many meetings committee members held with IDF officers, including the chief of staff and his superior, the defense minister.
Eisenkot has a problem. He doesn’t want thousands of career officers to be fired on his watch, a problem that, to his misfortune, he inherited from his predecessor.
Unfortunately, the IDF – backed by most of the military correspondents, who seem to identify more with the army than with society as a whole – see the Locker Commission members as terrorists who tried to infiltrate a military post. It was a senior military officer who said that the report is “like a sniper shot between the army’s eyes.”
It is not too late for the chief of staff and his backer, the defense minister, to reconsider their opposition to the report. Eisenkot has said in the recent past that he is not the chairman of a trade union or the head of a military junta. If he agrees to adopt the Locker Commission’s report, even just 60 percent of it, he would prove that Israel is a state with a military, and not a military state.