'Objective criteria for senior IDF appointments needed'

State Comptroller releases report calling for systematic procedure for promoting IDF officers to the rank of major-general.

Micha Lindenstrauss 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Micha Lindenstrauss 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
There is no systematic procedure for promoting IDF officers to the rank of major-general, the reservoir of officers from which all commanders of the army are chosen, and the choice, for the main part, depends on the personal relations between the chief of staff and the minister of defense, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus wrote in a report released on Tuesday.
The timely report comes on the eve of a major reshuffle of the general staff in the wake of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's appointment of Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant as the next chief of staff and the expected retirement of several members of his staff and the appointment of several replacements.
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Barak has already made it clear that he will take a dominant role in making the new appointments. According to the law, the chief of staff is the one who recommends these appointments to the general staff (which includes automatic promotion to the rank of major-general) and the minister of defense approves the appointments.
But, according to the state comptroller's report, in practice, there is no fixed way of making these appointments. "The procedure for appointing officers to jobs carrying the rank of major-general is nothing but a "bargaining process: between the chief of staff and the minister of defense. This so-called procedure is not based on any framework, has no rules or regulations is not clearly based on written material or documents, is not documented and, for the main part, is dependent on the relations existing between the chief of staff and the minister of defense."
"This is not the right way to conduct the process," continued Lindenstraus, even though he added that some of the defense ministers and chiefs of staff that he interviewed – including the current one – disagreed with him. "It is very important to institutionalize and develop clear rules for appointing major-generals. In this context, criteria for appointing major-generals should be established, while leaving enough flexibility and freedom to the decision-makers. It is also necessary to reach a regulated understanding on the question of the degree to which the defense minister may intervene in the process of appointing certain members of the general staff, rather than just approving their appointment and, if necessary, to bring this matter to the government."
As mentioned before, not everyone agrees with Lindenstraus. The list of those who argue that no criteria should be fixed includes Barak and former defense ministers Shaul Mofaz, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Moshe Arens. Former Chief-of-Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak agrees with them. According to Barak, the chief of staff should not be able to do anything he pleases. Furthermore, to begin with, there is a significant degree of agreement among the senior officer staff as to who should be promoted to major-general.
Ashkenazi supports fixed criteria for appointments
Chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, on the other hand, said he believed fixed criteria were necessary and that he intended to establish some during his term in office.
Another question arose when Barak insisted that the defense minister should have a greater say in some general staff appointments. These included the co-coordinator of activities in the territories and the president of the military court of appeals, key positions such as the deputy chief of staff and the chief of the intelligence branch, the head of the air force and some of the district command heads. He told Lindenstraus the government should consider allowing him to propose candidates for these positions and have a say regarding when their terms should expire.
Lindenstraus supported these comments.
Since the law empowers the minister of defense to approve or reject the chief-of-staff's recommendations for promotion to the rank of major-general, the state comptroller investigated how well informed they were about the candidates in order to fulfill this responsibility. His conclusion was that they lacked independent means to assess the qualifications of the various candidates.
Furthermore, the discussions between the defense minister and the chief-of-staff leading to such promotions are not transparent or documented. From interviews with the chief of staff and minister of defense and their predecessors, Lindenstraus learned that some opposed the move of recording these discussions while others supported it. He himself concluded that the documentation was "essential."
In the first half of the report, Lindenstraus examined the procedures for appointing lieutenant-colonels, colonels and brigadier-generals. Here he found that there was a structured procedure and defined criteria for making these appointments and that since the Second Lebanon War, under the command of Ashkenazi, the army's adherence to these arrangements had improved.
Nevertheless, the state comptroller found many occasions in which the written procedures were ignored. For example, the minimum amount of time that a lieutenant-colonel must serve at that rank before being considered for promotion is 24 months, according to the regulations. Nevertheless, the state comptroller found that 63 percent of those promoted to colonel did not complete the full minimum amount at the lower rank.
The state comptroller also found that many officers did not fulfill some of the requirements of the jobs and ranks they were given. For example, 24 percent of the candidates considered to fill positions at the rank of lieutenant-colonel did not fulfill the requirements of education or military experience. Eight of them were promoted nonetheless.
While acknowledging that the structure of the appointment procedure for the senior ranks below major-generals existed and that the observance of this structure had improved after the Second Lebanon War, the state comptroller concluded that "the results of the investigation point to failure to observe some of the criteria established by the IDF as a condition for receiving appointments…This situation does not jibe with the aim of appointing officers who have the necessary experience and know-how to satisfactorily carry out their tasks. The IDF must make certain that the development of the officer staff, and the characteristics of service, allow it to meet the criteria established as a condition for appointment to these jobs."
In its response to the report, the IDF spokesman said most of the state comptroller's comments on the appointments of senior officers were based on the findings of his initial investigation in 2007. Since then, the army had begun preparing a "project for the promotion of the officer staff" in which all of general staff orders were being updated including those related to the promotion and training of the senior officer staff. The state comptroller's comments from the initial investigation had been taken into account in this work, the IDF spokesman said.
The spokesman also replied to the state comptroller's specific criticism that officers were promoted even though some had not completed the minimal time in their previous rank. He said the army had amended this regulation to specifically permit the premature advancement of veteran and experienced officers who met all the other criteria for advancement.
Regarding the state comptroller's criticism of the lack of fixed criteria for promoting officers to the rank of lieutenant-general, the spokesman wrote, "The IDF intends to formally establish certain parameters including age, training, number of positions held, higher education degrees and personal profile. The regulation will be presented to the minister of defense for his comments."