State comptroller critical of cuts to IDF budget

Medical kits, ammo, equipment and food weren't sufficient during war; accuses PM of aiding crony.

Lindenstrauss 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lindenstrauss 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Due to severe budget cuts, the army cut back on training for combat units in the reserves and regular service without assessing the potential damage to the soldiers' fighting capacity, Micha Lindenstrauss charged in the first half of the annual State Comptroller's Report published Monday. In addition, medical kits, ammunition, equipment and food were not properly updated and acquired, leading to serious shortages during the Second Lebanon War. On another matter, the comptroller found that while serving as minister of industry, trade and labor in 2005, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert helped a Likud Party colleague obtain NIS 7.67 million in government grants from the Investment Center. Regarding the cutbacks in the IDF budget, Lindenstrauss wrote, "There was no proper analysis done of the ramifications the drop in training would have. By approving the cuts to the reserve corps year after year without studying the operational effects, the government took a great risk that this corps would not function properly if an all-out war broke out." According to the report, as of 2004, the IDF began to carry out live-fire maneuvers once in three years whereas until then, maneuvers had been held every year or two. As a result, there were battalions that had not trained for five years. Furthermore, since 2000, many brigade commanders were not offered advanced training programs and many did not serve in the position for even two years. Lindenstrauss wrote that it was possible that some brigade commanders had not even led a single full-scale brigade maneuver during the entire time that they held the post. The state comptroller concluded that the top echelon of the government knew about these problems but chose to ignore them. He also found that in 2005 the army decided not to purchase new medical equipment. As a result, during the Second Lebanon War combat reservists found that their medical kits included equipment that had expired. Lindenstrauss also found that combat soldiers suffered a severe shortage in ammunition. Even though the army knew there was a shortage, it did nothing to overcome it in the years before the war. In some cases, units were short of the ammunition they needed by 50 percent. Soldiers were also missing other equipment including flak jackets, spare clothes and even food. Sometimes, the troops appealed to the civilian sector for help. Regarding the allegations against Olmert, the state comptroller charged that the then-minister of industry, commerce and labor used his senior adviser, Oved Yehezkel and the director-general of the ministry, Ra'anan Dinur, to see to it that Rahamim Ben-Shushan received the money. According to the report, Ben-Shushan applied for a grant to expand Teva Post, his mushroom growing company. The ministry initially rejected the proposal on the grounds that this economic branch belonged to the Agriculture Ministry. Ben-Shushan sent a letter of complaint to Olmert, charging that the ministry had discriminated against him because it had approved a grant to another mushroom farmer in Arad. Three days later, he received a letter from Dinur's bureau in Oved's handwriting. Oved allegedly wrote that Olmert had personally requested that Ben-Shushan's application be reconsidered and that Olmert be updated on the results. In response to Lindenstrauss's questions on the matter, Olmert and Yehezkel said that the minister's instructions to be updated about the developments regarding Ben-Shushan's application were a function of his ministerial responsibilities. Lindenstrauss disagreed. "In the opinion of the comptroller," he wrote, "the fact that the entrepreneur had direct contact with employees in the minister's bureau and that he cited his relations to the minister, the minister's request for a 'personal examination' can be interpreted by the interim manager of the Investment Center as an instruction to give preferential treatment to the entrepreneur," the state comptroller wrote. The state comptroller's annual report, the second half of which will come out in the spring, also investigated employment practices in eight government companies and examined the performance of local authorities regarding a number of subjects under its jurisdiction. The report also addressed topics involved in the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.