Analysis: An armed force or a trade union?

Both the IDF generals and the IEC management were trying to evade responsibility by passing any potential blame on to the government.

idf maneuver 298 (photo credit: courtesy)
idf maneuver 298
(photo credit: courtesy)
The two main items on Sunday evening's news programs were disconcertingly similar. Two large organizations, each supplying a crucial service to the nation, were complaining that they didn't have sufficient resources to deal with emergency situations. Both groups have powerful lobbies that present their case to the government and public, and steadfastly resist reform in the way they are run. The announcements by the Israel Electric Company that the heat wave had pushed the national power grid to maximum capacity and that any technical failure would lead to blackouts around the country, was almost the mirror image of the IDF's protestations that it needed another NIS 7 billion to ensure it was prepared for the next war. Both the IDF generals and the IEC management were trying to evade responsibility by passing any potential blame on to the government. The fact that the entire country has been teetering on the brink of an energy crisis for the last 24 hours should come as no surprise. This level of consumption was bound to reached when temperatures neared 40 degrees nationwide. The IEC could have been ready for it if new production units had been constructed on time or a limited program of electricity rationing prepared. But the IEC is an unwieldy behemoth whose powerful union has firmly opposed any reform plans. A paralyzed company won't be prepared for the unexpected, although the weather these past few days is no freak occurrence. Heat waves are a reality in this part of the world. Regretfully, so are wars. The IDF's job is to remain constantly alert for the next outbreak of warfare. There is no ideal budget to guarantee that it does so. It would be better to have a bit more money for F-16s, armored jeeps and officer's pension plans, but the defense budget is determined by civilians and weighed against the various other national needs. The military's job is to take orders from the government, salute smartly and make do with the money they've been given. Unlike civilian workers, the IDF doesn't have a labor union and will never go on strike. But that doesn't mean the army hasn't got one of the country's most influential lobbies, whose members were deployed on Sunday to secure its latest demands. In the weekly cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Lt.-Gen. (res.) Ehud Barak spearheaded the attack, with Transportation Minister Lt.-Gen. (res.) Shaul Mofaz and National Infrastructure Minister Brig.-Gen. (res.) Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (who has his own problems with the electrical workers) supplying supporting fire. Since the IDF's inception, its generals have had a great degree of autonomy in deciding how to use their budget. Of all the government departments, the military is the most adept at opposing the Treasury boys' efforts to impose fiscal responsibility. The generals argue that civilians don't understand how the army works and usually get the cabinet's backing. But last summer's war, and the months that preceded it, in which then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz embarked on a program to cut back ground forces, proved that even within the IDF there were widely differing ideas on how to spend money. This became even clearer when new Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi canceled all of Halutz's cancellations. Why should the government give a blank check to generals who change their budgetary priorities every other year? The Brodet Committee was supposed to set out basic principles for the structure of the defense budget. Two months ago, it recommended a gradual budget increase over the next decade, coupled with various cutbacks to IDF manpower. But the generals, neither active nor reserve, don't seem capable of accepting full civilian control over military affairs. They continue to behave like a combination militia and trade union rather than the armed force of a democracy.