A record-breaking number of IDF personnel traveled abroad in 2019 on publicly funded trips, Ynet learned following a request for documents under the Freedom of Information Law.
The IDF had initially refused to provide information regarding overseas trips and is allegedly still withholding some documents.
The exact cost of the trips, which include non-critical events such as a cooking competition in Russia, remains unknown but is estimated to be in the tens of millions of shekels.
The number of military flights abroad has been increasing since 2016 and routinely includes at least one career officer.
IDF delegations have traveled abroad for purposes including weapons testing in Germany and the United States, official memorials at the Nazi camps in Poland, joint international exercises and even military cooking competitions entered by Israeli troops.
According to data provided by the IDF to the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, in 2016 there were no less than 2,432 such trips for a total of 3,878 military personnel, including 163 with the rank of brigadier general and above.
In 2017, the number of foreign delegations grew to 2,440, while the number of personnel increased considerably to 5,057, of which 200 were senior officers.
In 2018, the number of foreign delegations stood at 2,395, including 4,782 soldiers.
There was another significant increase in 2019, with 2,741 foreign trips for no less than 5,979 troops, of whom 213 held the rank of major general and above.
The IDF referred questions about the ranks of the soldiers, which countries they visited and the costs involved to the Defense Ministry, which declined to answer them despite such trips being publicly funded.
Both the IDF and the Defense Ministry have also not shared this information with the Finance Ministry.
While the exact cost of such foreign trips is not entirely clear, it is fair to assume that they run into the tens of millions of shekels each year, given that each visit requires a security detail, daily expenses for each delegate and a supply of kosher food at every location.
Furthermore, high-ranking officers often fly in business or first class.
The funding of these various delegations is in addition to the funding for the permanent delegations of the defense establishment and IDF affiliates around the world, mainly in the United States, which cost about NIS 165 million annually.
The IDF said in response: "In recent years, the need to travel the world has increased due to the IDF's increased international cooperation and relationships with other countries and global organizations.
It added: "Due to security constraints, we cannot elaborate on the destinations of the delegations to other countries. In 2020, due to guidelines to reduce non-essential travel, only a handful of trips were made."
The military said that the need for each trip was carefully examined.
“It should be noted that given a change in the way U.S. military aid is disbursed and restricted to spending on American industries, many delegations have had to travel to the U.S. in order to procure munitions. This process is expected to accelerate in the coming years," the IDF said.