Improvisation's price

It's hard to avoid the impression that IDF higher-ups expect things to fix themselves, or be forgotten.

IDF evacuated 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF evacuated 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF's relative lack of emphasis on discipline, organization and meticulous planning was never a closely guarded military secret. The goings-on within the IDF - still essentially a people's army - were always public knowledge, indeed part of Israel's collective folklore. In time the IDF actually grew to pride itself on its "flexibility and powers of improvisation," the flipside of whose coin can be disorder and ineffectiveness. What most of us know - or sense at least to a limited extent - was brought out forcefully and unsparingly by the state comptroller last week. He took the IDF to task as never before and exposed its supervisory failings in insistent detail. The comptroller's investigations, it needs be stressed, began more than a year prior to last summer's Lebanese conflict and the report pertains to the period that led up to the war. That war's shortcomings have made IDF-bashing nearly a national pastime. While some of that criticism is excessive and unmerited, an army with so much esprit de corps and such readiness for self-sacrifice also owes its dedicated soldiers and officers much better. Not all the inadequacies highlighted by the comptroller directly contributed to what went wrong this past summer. Indeed many battlefield flaws arose at the highest government echelons, which often issued contradictory instructions and bewilderingly reversed policy within short spans of time. The best military structure could not function satisfactorily under such circumstances. But that patently wasn't all. Too many failings were IDF-made. When the top-brass doesn't possess full data about its stockpiles, when field commanders are untrained in complex operations - involving infantry, armored units and the air force - this impacts directly on the ability to successfully wage battle. It mattered in Lebanon and will matter even more in what awaits us, according to the IDF's own predictions, on the northern and southern fronts perhaps as early as 2007. The fact that, as exposed by the comptroller, 82% of IDF major-generals, 88% of brigadier-generals and 76% of colonels never attended military college is not merely a matter of formality. This results in a lack of professionalism, a lack of rudimentary familiarity with strategy and operational theory, a lack of judgment-formation skills and an inability to share know-how with other corps and commanders. Inexpert officers are less able to codify information and pass it on efficiently, to develop yardsticks for improvement or to maintain the continuity necessary so that each new commander is not required to reinvent the wheel. Lack of continuity is ironically even blatant at the security colleges themselves, where the focus alters with the appointment of each new chief. Worst of all, no criteria exist to weed out the mediocre from deserving and talented personnel. Without the above, orders become non-binding recommendations. Thus soldiers were kidnapped despite existing procedures which should have been thoroughly inculcated. In the recent Lebanese conflict troops untrained in house-to-house combat were sent precisely on such missions, and the potency of the enemy's anti-tank weaponry was unanticipated even though it had been around for decades. Even those who do enroll in showcase IDF command colleges don't always benefit as much as they should. Many IDF lecturers are plainly unqualified and their value system hardly constitutes a model for emulation. Some falsify reports, forge receipts and fabricate preposterous attendance records. Outside lecturers are paid exorbitant sums even as the IDF bewails budget cuts. Despite these and other of the comptroller's discoveries and scathing criticisms, the IDF has remained remarkably unfazed. It's hard to avoid the impression that military higher-ups expect things to fix themselves, or be forgotten in what the comptroller described as "the IDF's long tradition of not repairing its faults." The fact that journalists last week managed to pull off a series of mock sabotage capers within the heart of IDF headquarters fails to instill much confidence. If things are as worrisome as the comptroller asserts, then there is no guarantee that the IDF will improve its act. Urgently needed now are stringent follow-ups to ascertain just how the IDF treats each and every disclosure by the comptroller - and to hold it accountable when that treatment is inadequate.