IDF convoys will avoid Arab-Israeli towns during war - IDF logistics head

The retiring commander of IDF's Technology and Logistics Division said the military may avoid the Wadi Ara area during wartime due to disturbances.

 JEWS AND MUSLIMS protest together for calm and coexistence in Lod, following a night of heavy rioting by Arab residents in the city, in May. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
JEWS AND MUSLIMS protest together for calm and coexistence in Lod, following a night of heavy rioting by Arab residents in the city, in May.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

After four years as head of the IDF's Technology and Logistics Division, Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak (Itzik) Turgeman will leave his position in about two weeks and retire after 34 years in uniform.

Turgeman spent most of his service in combat, where he began in the Armored Corps and continued on to, among other things, command the 401st Brigade, serve as head of the IDF Operations Division, and as the military secretary of defense ministers Ehud Barak and Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon.

Turgeman's last months in office were very busy: From May's Operation Guardian of the Walls and the lessons learned, through a very intensive engagement in everything related to the conditions of the soldiers, which recently made headlines due to the extensive discussion on the subject on social media, to the biggest strategic issues related to the army's operational readiness for the next war.

Operation Guardian of the Walls set off a lot of red flags for the army's leadership, who are now preparing for violent disturbances in the Arab sector and mixed cities and for violent incidents that may occur on a much larger scale than in the last operation.

"What really bothers me," says Turgeman, "is the traffic arteries and major roads and the impact of violent disturbances on public security and the movement of the IDF's leading convoys. This is a fact that I foresee as having significant potential to hold up the ability to coordinate the IDF's forces."

What are you doing on this matter in terms of preparations?

"This means that we will not travel on some of the traffic arteries that we previously planned to use."

Meaning you switched traffic arteries? For example, will you no longer lead convoys through Wadi Ara in an emergency?

"Yes, I think Wadi Ara is an artery that it is not right to base ourselves on or confront. It is not worth the investment of resources. A lot of forces have to be invested, and we have alternative routes that we have planned for war."

 Retiring IDF commander of Technology and Logistics Maj.-Gen. Itzik Turgeman  (credit: SHLOMI YOSEF) Retiring IDF commander of Technology and Logistics Maj.-Gen. Itzik Turgeman (credit: SHLOMI YOSEF)

But there is a dissonance here. On the one hand, you want to transport the equipment, tools and ammunition as quickly as possible, and on the other hand, it creates a problematic PR aspect, which is that the IDF is afraid of traveling on roads in the State of Israel.

"We are not afraid, but the work and dealing with Wadi Ara is not worth it. During a war, the IDF will do what is right in order to bring its forces to the battlefield as quickly as possible, and we have enough other alternatives.

As part of the lessons learned from the operation, we have set up security squads to deal with the security of the convoys. These are armed soldiers who have been prepared for this mission and will also be equipped with means to disperse riots."

How many incidents of attacks on military vehicles were there during Operation Guardian of the Walls?

"There were a few isolated incidents of stone-throwing on military trucks, but in war it may be on a larger scale, and that concerns me. In a war we have to meet deadlines, and violent disorder on a road is not a traffic jam that can be rerouted – it is a much more complex event, so we are preparing for different scenarios."

AS PART of a program known as the "Axis of Axes," promoted by Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi since he was commander of the Northern Command, Turgeman says: "We have so far made 1,600 km. of wide dirt roads suitable, which in emergencies will be used in various combat sectors, without the need to bring the trucks onto the regular road. Today we have a plan to create detours using engineering tools. Suppose a missile falls and hits an interchange at the Golani junction. We have plans to remove the waste and open an alternative road."

The issue of transportation in Operation Guardian of the Walls also arose in another problematic context, due to the low attendance of drivers, most of whom are Arabs, for various transportation missions. Turgeman strongly rejects the claim that Arab drivers did not show up due to nationalist motives, but on the other hand also rejects other claims that the IDF was the one that asked Muslim drivers not to show up.

"There have been quite a few unsubstantiated reports about drivers not coming," he protests. "I am based on existing contracts with the Defense Ministry. We did not have any logistical problems during the operation."

Weren't there incidents in which many drivers refused to show up?

"There were incidents that we investigated, but they did not create a shortage of drivers. We ordered them to deploy because I wanted to prepare ahead of time and shorten times."

There were hundreds of Muslim drivers who did not show up.

"No, no. There was a holiday at that time, Eid al-Fitr. They were summoned at ten o'clock at night without declaring a state of emergency in the country, and I am not sure that if this was a case of the Seder night, for example, all Jewish drivers would immediately report in a state not defined as a state of emergency."

So beyond your claim that even in the investigations you conducted there was no nationalist ideological motive that caused the lack of arrival of Muslim drivers, what about the opposite claim that arose that the IDF requested that Muslim drivers not report?

"This is also a false claim. I do not define for civil companies in the State of Israel the religion of the driver who shows up. I have only two conditions: one, that they have no security record, and the other - that they have undergone all the required professional training. At this very moment, a large part of the drivers who carry out missions for the IDF are Muslims, and a significant number of them come from the Bedouin sector after serving and undergoing our courses and training."

You say you did not have a logistical problem, because in the end it was a small operation, but if the operation was expanded and a ground maneuver was needed, your assessment is that the same people who did not show up at ten at night due to different circumstances would arrive with the civilian trucks?

"As a matter of fact, many of those who did not arrive at night showed up in the morning and the next day. And if more had needed to come, they would have come – because many of the people, including Muslims, drive during routine operations and have driven in various IDF operations in the past, regardless of their religion or ethnicity."

You are relying heavily on civilian drivers for operational purposes, but in the next war, in the severe scenarios of damage to the home front, it is very likely that civilian drivers will stay home with their families. These are not soldiers who will show up as soon as you give the order.

"I have contracts with civilian companies regarding the supply of trucks in an emergency, I have set up a volunteer unit, and today we have an array of over a thousand volunteers, most of them officers who want to contribute. They have a truck license for trucks over 15 tons, and they will arrive in any situation.

"Even senior officers volunteer. Reservists like Udi Adam, who also in routine service has a regular line from Tel Hashomer to Shizafon, Maj.-Gen. Danny Bitton and current commander of the Ground Forces and former head of the IDF's Technology and Logistics Division Maj.-Gen. Kobi Barak, who now holds a driver's license in the army.

"Everyone renews their qualifications at least once a year, and the demand to serve in the unit is very high. These are people who, if I call them at twelve at night, are already at the gate of the base at six in the morning."

IN RECENT years, there have been harsh allegations and criticisms about the suitability of the IDF's logistical system for war, from the old trucks to the state of the emergency warehouses and of the manpower and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) that handle the emergency system.

Along with various criticisms from the state comptroller and the Defense Ministry, harsh criticism is leveled by former IDF ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, who has fiercely argued that the military is not prepared for the next war, and that its logistical readiness is in bad shape. Turgeman responded sharply to these allegations.

"I respect Brick," he prefaces. "I grew up on his heroic battle stories. He is an Israeli hero and since then it is over. I just do not accept his criticism. Brick has never spoken to me and his vision is narrow. I'm sorry, but Brick is still stuck in 1973. He sees the tank convoys and truck convoys that I do not see.

"I am the head of the Technology and Logistics Division and I have responsibility for this area. The perception has changed, and we have increased the means attached to the maneuver. For refueling purposes, for example, we have brought in new trucks. The equipment of the regular and reserve soldiers is excellent."

But it is really not just Brick. There were reports from the state comptroller and gaps in qualification were found in other audits.

"The truck issue bothers me, but I told the General Staff that not everything can be done and that we need to evaluate the risks. We made a new $100 million purchase of trucks for the front-line divisions, we bought 800 forklifts and logistics equipment that had not been purchased for 40 years, such as tank-transporters, fuel tankers, large generators, ambulances and more.

"There will always be shortages, but many of them are dealt with by civilian entities, in pre-signed contracts geared toward times of war."

There is also criticism about the state of the emergency storage units, their upkeep, lack of manpower, the IDF's difficulty to retain quality NCOs and more.

"Our work today is based on a different operational concept, called "Different Upkeep." In recent years, we have built six battalions whose responsibility is to carry out the upkeep work-program in all storage units. Every quarter we check their state of readiness."

Today there is sound equipment; the readiness is not 100% in all places but in my view, their level of preparedness is good and as someone who deals with it directly I insist that the readiness for war is high, including in the reserve brigades."

"In the coming year we will be investing approximately $1 billion in the reserves, in order to improve the reserve units' training, but also their equipment and weaponry. Diverting $1 billion is not an easy decision, but this is the challenge that the Chief of Staff has set for the coming year.

"Similar to what we did with the standing army when we singled out the combat battalions for development, this year the focus is on the reserve battalions and it will be implemented in training exercises, available positions, equipment, weapons and night-vision equipment for every reserve platoon."

THE GENERAL public discourse and on social media has focused in the last few months on the conditions of soldiers in the standing army, such as buses to bases, food in kitchens, the soldier's salary and many other issues. Every virtual uproar quickly arrives at the desk of the Technology and Logistics Division head - soldiers who request donations from civilians, a soldier who traveled in the trunk of a bus, or differing health hazards in bases and mess halls.

Agree with me that there is a gap between what the army feels it is investing in the soldiers and the public discourse, which sometimes is so cynical that it harms the IDF's reputation.

"I see myself as being responsible for most of the motivational components," he stresses. "On behalf of the army, I have an unwritten contract with Israeli society, toward the soldiers' mothers and fathers. Their son or daughter needs to be fed, healthy, properly dressed and have a way to get to and from their bases safely.

"Not a week goes by without me dealing with these issues - food, travel and soldiers' conditions, sometimes in direct contact with the parents. In most cases, when I check the publications on social media, the soldiers have not spoken to their commanders. They upload it to social media, a trend that concerns me, but I am not angered by it and understand that it is part of today's reality."

Not long ago, the head of the IDF's Technology and Logistics Division says, he encountered a Facebook post by soldiers posted in a base near Modi'in who wrote that they would be happy to receive warm food for Shabbat. "It drove me out of my mind. I checked the issue, I spoke to the logistics officer and the commander of their unit, and discovered that their intention was that they wanted hand-braided challah for Shabbat.

"The soldiers do not always understand that this kind of request can also harm the army's reputation, as if saying that the IDF does not care for its soldiers. Therefore, I always request that when checking a complaint, not to do so with an angry mindset."

On the other hand, do you not feel that there are issues that are not dealt with until they gain public attention, such as the busing issue?

"It is important to use data. Until COVID, we operated 400 buses. When COVID began, we tripled that number. Today we are leasing 1,400 buses for Sunday morning, and another 1,400 on Thursdays. There are 55 different stops across the country. We are running an app that enables a soldier to plan his journey, such that combat soldiers do not even pass through central bus stations on their way to and from their bases.

"Sometimes there are backups, but I do not fall over from pictures of soldiers standing in lines. At the end of the day, my responsibility is to make sure that the soldiers arrive and return from their base in a respectable fashion.

"We are conducting many actions with the Transportation minister and her office in order to make the procedures more efficient and to understand the soldier's needs. The largest backups are in Beersheba because of the large number of bases in the South, and we are acting to improve the solution."

But do you understand how an event and photo of a soldier riding in the trunk is seen as a structural problem in the army?

"The soldier in question was not even on his way to his base; he traveled home on a Thursday and got off in Hertzliya. If we would have found him, he would have been reprimanded. He could have waited half an hour and traveled home safely. Sometimes we need to be strict commanders even when faced with unpleasant images from social media, which sometimes unfairly smear whole population groups in the army.

"The situation today is that every mishap or health problem is uploaded instantly. That is the situation and we need to cope with it, and sometimes we also improve due to these publications. I opened a call center in order to treat food-related problems, and we receive barely 15 calls a day. When I ask soldiers why they do not call, they answer honestly that it is easier to simply post it online."

Turgeman is aware of the fact that the current generation of soldiers is opinionated, aware of its rights and sometimes demands what they want immediately. At the same time, he is sure that this does not affect the soldier's temerity.

"In combat they will not look for the mouse or insect in the kitchen, they will look to fight. It is an excellent generation, much more educated, asks questions, and there are incidents where their criticism allows us to learn and fix the problem.

"During my tenure as commander of the division, I feel like it was an honor to finish my military service here, in a role that provided me with a broad view of Israel's youth."