Security and Defense: A farewell to arms?

With morale among career officers at an all-time low, the IDF is strategizing to prevent mass resignations and bring training and equipment up to par.

elazar stern noble 298.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimkski)
elazar stern noble 298.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimkski)
Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern knows exactly what military demoralization feels like. In 1984, when he was a young company commander in the Paratrooper's Brigade, Stern watched as dozens of his comrades - career officers with whom he had fought side-by-side during the 1982 war in Lebanon - resigned from the army, due to a growing lack of support for the IDF's continued presence in Lebanon. Stern made up his mind to follow suit. In a letter to his commanders, he announced his own decision to depart along with the other "good guys who had left." However, the chief of staff at the time, Moshe Levi, persuaded Stern to remain and take command of Paratrooper Battalion 202. Today, Stern - who heads the IDF Human Resources Directorate - is finding himself in the position Levi was in 22 years ago: having to persuade young career officers not to bolt over the results of a war in Lebanon. Indeed, IDF Behavioral Science Department head Col. Eyal Efrati has been busy since the summer participating in internal probes into the war and conducting surveys to assess the extent of its effect on the troops. Before the war, a high-ranking officer told The Jerusalem Post this week, motivation to remain in the military had begun to drop, mainly due to salary and benefit cuts. The results of the war, and infighting within the IDF that ensued, only added to the already low morale. Since the summer, the momentum has increased, and cracks in the system are being felt. Two weeks ago, Galilee Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch resigned, with calls for Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to follow suit. These calls were repeated when Halutz decided to appoint a temporary replacement for Hirsch, reneging on his promise that the post would be filled by Division 80 commander Brig.-Gen. Imad Fares. Last week, two exemplary company commanders from the Armored Corps informed their commanders that they were leaving the IDF. This was indicative of the crisis that had begun to reach the higher ranks as well. Battalion and even brigade commanders have confessed to taking off their uniforms before attending parent-teacher meetings, so as not to embarrass their children. Officers are also viewing the Hirsh affair with trepidation. If he was blamed for the kidnappings and other subsequent failures, they wonder, what will happen to them if they ever make a mistake. "Will I also be abandoned and left out to dry without the backing of my superiors?" asked one junior officer this week. TO CURB what senior officers warn could turn into a massive and unprecedented exodus from the IDF ranks, Stern and Efrati have recently presented the data to Halutz. They have also begun recommending an immediate increase in benefits for junior and non-commissioned officers. These include providing officers with military-issued cars for their personal use, low-interest loans and bonuses for officers who sign on for additional years of service. Focus groups of career officers whom Efrati studied caused him to raise an interesting suggestion: Send officers to military academies, so they can feel they are building careers, just like civilians in the fields of hi-tech or law. This makes sense, if what the officer interviewed said is true about the other reason - aside from salaries and the aftermath of the war - for the drop in motivation where making a career out of the army is concerned. This has to do with developments in Israeli society as a whole. Comparing today's challenges for the military to the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 - when Israelis flocked to volunteer to fight - he said, "Today, people think more about what they can get than what they can give. It is no longer like [US president John F.] Kennedy said: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.'" *** Deep in the Negev, not far from the Tactical Training Center at the Ze'elim Training Base, is a cluster of buildings alongside mosques with towering minarets. This replica "Palestinian city" is a new urban warfare training center called Ir David (the City of David). Under the watch of OC Ground Forces Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, all IDF infantry and armor battalions and brigades will spend nine to 12 weeks this year training at this center, Ze'elim or bases, among them the Elyakim guerrilla warfare center in the North. In closed meetings, Gantz refers to his current post - the officer responsible for preparing Israel's ground forces for war - as the toughest job he has ever had. Coming from a man who served as OC Northern Command and commander of the Judea and Samaria Division during the first year of the intifada, this says a lot. Gantz has spent the past three months since the war ended overseeing some 65 internal probes into the entire IDF, from ground troops to the General Staff. Now that these are completed, it is Gantz's job to put their findings into practice, or - in his words: "Take all of the conclusions, put them together, package them and create a plan." The bottom line - and what Gantz has planned - is more training. According to Gantz's plan, in 2007, regular soldiers and reservists will begin training 40 percent more than they did last year. This is not simple, given financial constraints. In 2005, NIS 767 million was allocated for training, and in 2006 the amount dropped to just over NIS 500 million. Following the IDF's poor showing during the war, Gantz slammed the brakes on the continued cuts, and hopes now to succeed in increasing the amount to NIS 830 million for the coming year. Training is not the only thing Gantz has in mind for the ground forces, however. He also hopes to get funding to create uniformity of combat equipment among the different units - something the war revealed was lacking. (Stories of only some of the soldiers having ceramic bulletproof vests, for example, emerged as the war progressed.) The Ground Forces Command believes that by the end of 2007, if everything goes according to the above plans, the IDF will be trained and properly equipped for the next war.