The IDF is facing alarming logistical issues - analysis

Israel's state comptroller revealed on Sunday that the IDF is logistically unable to carry out operations like Break the Wave in the West Bank.

 IDF troops operate in the West Bank as part of Operation Break the Wave, September 25, 2022 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF troops operate in the West Bank as part of Operation Break the Wave, September 25, 2022

Throughout the Jewish world the period from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, known collectively as the Ten Days of Repentance, is full of religious rituals meant to encourage repentance, prayer and acts of charity.

In Israel, this period has also given birth to several new rituals, though not necessarily of the religious variety.

The first is for people to take to the airwaves and social media and say what others -- such as rival politicians or other sectors of society --  should be asking forgiveness for. The second is to remember the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Forty-nine years later, much of the public discussion of that war is about the country’s intelligence failure and the Jewish State’s overall lack of preparedness, even though at the end -- after being taken completely by surprise -- the IDF stood knocking on the gates of Cairo and Damascus. 

That lack of preparedness traumatized the country. Despite that trauma, however, there have been other times since then that the IDF has found itself unprepared or ill-equipped for battle. The 2006 Second Lebanon War is the starkest example, as reserve soldiers complained of going into battle with poor logistical support, without proper equipment or sufficient supplies. 

 THE PHOTOS chronicle the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath. (credit: Ron Frenkel/GPO) THE PHOTOS chronicle the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath. (credit: Ron Frenkel/GPO)

When Gabi Ashkenazi took over as chief of staff after that war, his immediate priority was to fix the shortcomings that were revealed during the war. Emergency supplies would be restocked and updated and training would be stepped up. 

The IDF is facing logistical problems in the West Bank

It is in light of both the shortcomings of the Yom Kippur and Second Lebanon wars that a preliminary report put out Sunday by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman about logistical problems facing IDF soldiers in Judea and Samaria currently engaged in stemming a wave of terror is so troubling.  Englman concluded that the “IDF is not sufficiently prepared logistically for the continuation of the fighting” in the West Bank.

His conclusions were based on snap visits to the Kfir Brigade training base in the Jordan Valley, as well as to a base for soldiers at the Yakir outpost. 

Englman found, among other deficiencies, a lack of cold drinking water in desert conditions, inadequate air conditioners, insufficient food, unhygienic conditions, and poor medical care. In short, severe logistical flaws.  

Older veterans of the IDF might look at the report and say, “Welcome to the army.'' They may then complain that this generation is soft and spoiled and that when they themselves were in uniform years ago, they experienced everything spelled out in the Englman report, and then some. 

Which all might be true, but it’s beside the point. Just because these veterans might not have had air conditioners in the summer heat of the Jordan Valley 50 years ago, doesn't mean that their grandchildren should suffer the same deprivations.  The country is in a much different place today than it was then.

In 1954, Haim Hefer wrote a song that captured -- in a humorous way -- the spirit of the times. 

“Cannons instead of socks, a tank instead of a pair of shoes, we will take off three t-shirts if you give us a destroyer, and instead of a Shabbat shirt, give us a jet.”

But that was then, that was in the early days of the state, when that type of physical derivation was seen as necessary so the state could afford essential weaponry. But today? Today the state has sufficient wherewithal to afford both cannons and socks, both t-shirts and a destroyer, both state-of-the-art armaments and sufficient food for its soldiers.

An inability to provide basic needs for soldiers at a time of relative plenty impacts on the morale and motivation of the soldiers, as well as on the willingness of parents to encourage their children to serve in combat units. 

In a speech to a graduating class of Air Force cadets in December, Chief of Staff Lt-Gen.  Aviv Kochavi took aim at a sign he saw in Herzliya that was a take-off on the well know Air Force slogan, “the best become pilots.” The Herzliya sign read “the best to hi-tech.”

Kochavi passionately bewailed a culture that encourages the country’s youth to shirk combat units and prefer serving in the IDFs cyber units because they serve as a springboard into lucrative hi-tech jobs after the army.

“Who marches in a silent column and captures the killers in the heart of a Palestinian village? The fighters. Who lies along the borders and foils infiltrations? The fighters. Who crosses our borders week after week and flies to attack enemy weapons? The fighters,” Kohavi said.

While cyber has “great potential,” Kochavi said, “The best are those willing to endanger their lives to save others — that is the clearest expression of ‘the best,’ and don’t dare take that from us.”

If that’s the case, then as the head of the army, he needs to ensure that the fighters -- the combat soldiers and reservists -- have what they need in terms of food, water and medical care.

Warfare may have "progressed" light years over the last two centuries, but the dictum attributed to Napoleon that “what a soldier needs most is a full belly and a pair of shoes” is as true today as it was in the nineteenth century.

Just ask the Russians. The world is watching open-mouthed at how the vaunted Russian army is under-performing in Ukraine, with part of the problem attributed to poor logistics. 

As early as March 17, just three weeks into the war that has been raging now for over seven months, the Washington Post reported that British defense intelligence  claimed logistical problems were “preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel.”  The New York Times reported that troops outside Kyiv were heard complaining in intercepted radio communication that they needed food, water and fuel. 

And that was well before the Ukrainian counteroffensive last month which included severe disruptions on Russia's main supply lines to its troops. While in the midst of war the Kremlin may have credible explanations now about why it is unable to sufficiently supply its troops in southern Ukraine, there is no reason why in 2022 Israeli soldiers in the Jordan valley -- less than 100 kilometers from the capital --lack access to adequate food, water and medical care.