IDF soldiers near the Gaza border.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
IDF ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick warned that the military faces numerous challenges and must address them to be ready for war. “I do not sleep at night” he said, out of fear that the ground forces are not sufficiently prepared.
Brick said that over the last three years, the irresponsible cuts of thousands of career soldiers have created “critical gaps” in the army. This, along with the shortening of men’s service in the army, was a problem.
Brick has been IDF ombudsman for ten years and brings experience and long-term conclusions to his critique. This is important because his tenure was during the period after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when Israel sought to reform the IDF and learn from the mistakes made in that war.
He said he had spoken with thousands of soldiers and commanders during this period and that there is a “flawed organization culture” in the army. He visited 1,400 units and noted that soldiers are distracted by their smartphones. Orders are sent via Whatsapp, and some soldiers do not take care of their weapons before leaving base. “This system has lost all control. Have we gone crazy?” he asked, while recommending the establishment of an external commission of inquiry.
The IDF has rejected previous criticism along these lines. Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot claimed that the army was ready. The IDF is currently going through changes at the top level, as Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi will take over in a few weeks and a new deputy chief of staff, Eyal Zamir, has been named as well. With former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s resignation, the prime minister has taken on the job of defense minister.
This potentially leaves Israel with a period when such criticism cannot be properly addressed at the very top echelons because of operational needs on the ground and the demand that Netanyahu remain focused on immediate threats.
Currently, the army is confronting the Hezbollah tunnels in the North, while also focusing on the Iranian threat in Syria and the continued chance of unrest emerging in the West Bank and Gaza. This includes the shooting attack in Ofra this week, the Barkan terror attack in October and the murder of Ari Fuld in September.
The country takes for granted the relative quiet. Eisenkot has warned that there is a chance of escalation in the West Bank. In addition, the Shin Bet has said the calm is “deceptive.” The Shin Bet has prevented 500 terror attacks so far in 2018, according to a speech by Netanyahu in early December.
In Gaza there is still the chance that the ceasefire with Hamas might break down. Hamas interpreted the last round of clashes as a victory. It is currently seeking reconciliation with Fatah in the West Bank and to have the blockade relaxed over Gaza.
The question facing Israel today is whether the ground forces are ready for war. The intelligence operations confronting terror threats over the years have been successful, as evidenced by the hundreds of attacks reportedly prevented. In addition, the air force has carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria since 2011. These are successful attempts to interdict Iran’s threats.
Any conflict that might break out in the North would involve the ground forces. This is precisely the kind of conflict that Israel found itself facing in 2006. It is essential that the government learns the lessons of complacency that led to failures in 2006. It is essential that long-term thinking be applied, as opposed to the tendency to look at daily challenges.
Israel has a long-term budget plan in place, named Gideon, to plan for the army. However, the questions raised about discipline and details – such as how new technology such as smartphones is transforming the land warrior – are important to take seriously. Two MAG machine guns were stolen from the IDF over the weekend near the Lebanese border. This is the kind of incident that Brick warned about.
It is important to take criticism seriously and to have lines of communication open where concerns from officers can be made, as opposed to simply dismissing these warnings as exaggerations. Better to be critical now, than to learn the lessons only when war breaks out and it’s too late.