Ehud Olmert to 'Post': The IDF is in dire need of reform - opinion

The concept of compulsory IDF military duty that was fitting for the social reality of the 1950s and 1960s and the national ethos that dominated public discourse at the time has changed.

SOLDIERS TRAIN on the Golan Heights on Wednesday. (photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
SOLDIERS TRAIN on the Golan Heights on Wednesday.
(photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
 The IDF is in need of a quick, painful and demanding reform. This reform has been knocking on our door for many years now. And yet, nothing is being done and there have not been any signs that any changes will be carried out in the foreseeable future. Israel’s political leadership is busy at the moment. In recent years, it has been content with receiving a dramatically increased defense budget without trying to understand what structural changes to the composition of the IDF’s forces need to be made.
I will begin with a broad range recommendation that could have implications on the structure of the military. We must make the correct assessment of our priorities and accept that there is no benefit from recruiting haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva students. I am not interested here in discussing the ethics vis-à-vis offering them an exemption from military service. There are new and updated alternative options available, specifically such as carrying out civil national compulsory service, which can be adjusted with continuing to learn in yeshivas
There is no need to recruit haredi yeshiva students to the IDF since the State of Israel needs a smaller and more compact army. It must be adapted to handle our essential security needs, and be diversified according to the necessary areas of expertise.
The reason I am mentioning this issue here is the fact that I have no doubt that the IDF does not need additional manpower, regardless of the special living requirements that yeshiva students have. I would like to invite all of the State of Israel’s security experts to comment on this statement, and perhaps to open up a public debate in order to clarify the discourse on this topic from any issue other than strictly whether there is a security need for the service or not.
A smaller military would be based on providing adequate monetary compensation to the soldiers that are carrying out their compulsory service. In the current economic and social reality – the third decade of the 21st century – there is a vital need to compensate soldiers carrying out their compulsory army service in a completely different way, as former justice minister Daniel Friedmann stated more than 10 years ago.
The concept of compulsory IDF military duty that was fitting for the social reality of the 1950s and 1960s and corresponded with the national ethos that dominated public discourse at the time has completely changed.
The way to encourage youths to serve in the army – as the level of enthusiasm for enlisting has weakened among many secular Israelis, as well – is to compensate soldiers carrying out their compulsory service with amounts that match minimum wage jobs in the free market. A small army can afford this extra cost. The unnecessary expenditures made by the defense establishment in recent years have reached unprecedented proportions.
In 2007, I established a committee composed of the best economic, military and administrative experts across the country. It was headed by David Brodet, who had been the director-general of the Finance Ministry and chairman of Bank Leumi. Other members of the committee included Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg; Eli Hurvitz; Prof. Karnit Flug; Generals Eitan Ben Eliyahu and Ilan Biran; Ilan Mizrahi, former head of the National Security Council; Orna Berry and Nir Gilad.
The committee decreed – and the government approved – that for a period of 10 years, the defense budget would be NIS 54 billion per year. A portion of the funding would be conditional upon streamlining the defense establishment by NIS 3 billion each year. In practice, however, the budget swelled to NIS 60, 70 and even 80 billion per year after I left office. Absolutely no streamlining of the defense establishment took place. There’s no doubt at all that Israel’s spending on defense exceeded beyond actual security needs and billions of shekels were wasted on ridiculous operations the world over that were designed to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. These operations, however, never took place and the money went to waste.
The excessive amount spent on F-35 aircraft was not necessary. I am aware of all the words of praise used when referring to this modern jet. I do not want or pretend to have an expert opinion on the matter, but I do understand a little about the domestic and regional military situation. The State of Israel does not need to spend its entire foreign aid budget for the next few years – billions of dollars – on a fighter jet whose necessity is questionable.
There’s no air force in the region that we need dozens of F-35s to protect ourselves against. One of the country’s defense ministers told me he consulted with all of the Israel Air Force’s veterans, and they all supported purchasing the jets. And I have no doubt that all of the commanders of the armored corps would support the purchase of more tanks, and navy commanders would recommend buying seacraft (but not submarines – we already have more than we need as a result of someone’s irresponsible decision).
Israel currently has the ability, perhaps better than any other country in the world, to build up an air force based on unmanned aerial vehicles that are incredibly effective, have a greater range of capabilities and cost considerably less than fighter jets. They do not need to be operated by human pilots even when they are far away from Israel.
The best air force commanders recognize that in the future the air force will rely on drones. What are we waiting for? Why are we wasting billions of dollars on equipment that is not essential and delaying the structural changes that could help us increase our offensive attacking forces, improve our intelligence capabilities, and reduce our need for manpower that is exposed to the dangers that can be prevented?
The same is true with respect to the IDF’s ground forces. The protective equipment on our armored vehicles, which are permissible for publication, completely change our need for an armored corps and the armored vehicles utilized by IDF ground forces. The cost of continuing to produce these vehicles is exorbitant.
The use of precision-guided munition has also completely changed the structure and number of our combat forces, as well as their deployment in the field and associated maintenance.
Defense equipment that we have been developing over a long period of time and with considerable investment, make air defense systems much more effective than they have ever been before. This has great significance with regard to the excessive investments in protective gear, especially for ground targets.
In other words, it was Ehud Barak, former IDF chief of staff and former prime minister, who said that we need a small and smart IDF. Unfortunately, the IDF is not small. It is too large, too costly and consumes a massive budget.
It is not easy to say these things, and I do not write these words casually. IDF commanders – starting with the chief of staff, as well as many commanders in every section of the IDF – are the best, most courageous and devoted members of the Jewish people. Our existence, to this day, depends upon them. I have worked with many of them, and together we made fateful decisions that required of them incredible wisdom, dedication and courage.
Yet, it’s important to mention here emphatically that the defense establishment is also in need of reform. The IDF needs to change. It needs to be based on original thinking, which is different from how it has been for many years now.
In the current reality and lack of any form of political leadership to deal with security matters, this immense responsibility falls into the hands of IDF commanders – the current chief of staff and the one that will replace him – and requires that they carry out a thorough reform in the structure of Israel’s military, how their forces are ordered, which equipment is used and how it takes advantage of the many national resources that are invested in it.