An Israeli soldier stands atop a tank near Israel's border with Lebanon January 21, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Most of the Israeli public does not know who Yitzhak Brick is. If you search on Google, you’ll find two people with this name. One is a well-known professor of gerontology and the second is an IDF major-general. I’m referring here to the latter, who has served as the IDF ombudsman for the past decade. Brick has investigated the IDF in depth based on complaints from soldiers, and this week he presented his conclusions in as detailed a presentation as possible. Brick has had a long and successful military career, and even received a medal of valor. He fought in all of the country’s wars from the Six Day War to the First Lebanon War, and represents a generation of fighters. His comrades completed their service long ago, and he will retire in a few months too.
His formative experience as a soldier was the Yom Kippur War. Brick began the war as the commander of Battalion 113 with 200 soldiers. In the end, after 19 days of combat, 84 of them were dead. Some of his soldiers joined the battalion in the midst of the battles. He was wounded twice in the war, and only one of the 36 tanks from the original battalion remained intact when the fighting ended. This is Brick’s story in a few sentences. He is qualified to make a comprehensive assessment of the defense establishment and, therefore, his words carry great weight. I think we should listen and learn from him.
We recall that his formative experience was that horrific Yom Kippur War, which at certain moments posed a threat to the State of Israel’s existence. After this war, IDF soldiers vowed to prevent the State of Israel from ever getting into such a situation again. It is important to hear what he says, with passion and emotion. Most importantly, because he has penetrating questions about the IDF’s combat readiness. He bases his opinions, as noted, on 7,000 complaints per year, 60% of which are found to be justified. Another 20,000 calls are made each year to the IDF’s telephone hotline. If we multiple this by 10 years, we reach a huge number: Brick knows what is happening in the IDF.
He decided from the first moment in his current and last position to not only address the symptoms, the problems that emerge, but also the roots of the problems. In other words, he wanted to see the entire forest and not just the trees. Each and every complaint is investigated in its larger context to ensure that it is addressed in a comprehensive way and not as an isolated or personal incident.
In his last report, submitted this week, Brick does not spare the IDF from criticism. First, he talks about the commanders; there cannot be a good army without outstanding commanders to lead the soldiers. He has high regard for IDF commanders, but expresses concern about a minority of commanders who act improperly. Brick notes inappropriate conduct at the middle levels of command, and is worried that their inappropriate conduct has also infected higher levels. And if the highest commanders act inappropriately, what can be expected of the soldiers in the lower ranks? As someone who survived Israel’s wars, he notes the centrality of the IDF’s spirit, the connection between the commander and the soldiers in his unit, and the faith in the justness of the cause. What the IDF does – no one else will do. He emphasizes the need for a culture of oversight, follow-up and enforcement of discipline.
The new IDF, he discovers, relies too much on email and carries out activities without understanding how to do them correctly and why. Soldiers are busy with their cell phones, and commanders sometimes spy into their soldiers’ phones, invading their privacy. Brick emphasizes the changes in the army and in the career corps that have harmed the commitment of young officers to tie their futures to the IDF. Without these officers today, we will not have outstanding senior commanders tomorrow. He protests the severe cutbacks the army has suffered, primarily in the career corps, and the resultant gaps in human resources and the ability to carry out missions. As a veteran of the armored corps, Brick is disturbed by the IDF’s shrinking armored forces, by the deficient maintenance of the IDF’s combat equipment and the condition of emergency storehouses that hold the equipment the army will need for war.
Finally, he notes the importance of coordinating the operation of systems in an army that is so large and complex. And he finds this lacking in the IDF today.
Brick tried to say in public and in closed appearances that all of these elements together paint an alarming picture. He speaks with passion and deep conviction. The picture he portrays targets the core issue – Israel’s preparedness for war. This is the army’s supreme test. Routine training is only a long corridor, winding and exhausting, that ultimately leads to war – with the hope that it does not occur. As someone who experienced the Yom Kippur War, as someone who saw ill-equipped tanks and combat gear leave the emergency warehouses, as someone who studied this terrible surprise – Brick asserts that his mission is to address the weaknesses he found and demand that the army correct them. He spoke with great caution, to avoid harming the IDF. But he was duty bound to tell the truth. And he expressed great concern.
Some voices in the IDF were quick to downplay Brick’s remarks, in an attempt to soften the blow. I see this as a serious mistake. Those inclined to dismiss his assessment forget that the IDF ombudsman has no ulterior motives or personal interest. That is how he began his term in this role and that is how he is completing it. He is not threatening anyone in the IDF, and is not under threat. He engages purely in oversight. Therefore, we should heed his words. If he feels that the IDF is not properly prepared for battle, his assessment should be taken very seriously. In this case, Brick is not only the messenger; he is also the message. The writer is a Zionist Union MK and former IDF spokesman.
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