Photo: AFP
Is shorter service a political ploy?
Photo: AFP

The politics of military service

As long as the public fails to demand more from politicians, nothing will change

The reaction to the Bassat commission recommendations to slash IDF mandatory service was almost immediate: it was a transparent election ploy by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz six weeks before Election Day, with the political establishment silenced and Mofaz himself fighting to retain his position . They say it is a "revolution" he will bear no responsibility to implement.


This accusation stems from the– not wholly unjustified – view of many people that Israeli politicians are little more than survivalists and PR machines.


Mofaz has zig-zagged so many times on so many issues, fallen in line with whoever's in power and the prevailing winds, that he's earned a reputation as someone whose moves are dictated by these considerations.


But at least technically, the instance of the Ben-Bassat commission is different.


Quick work


The commission was established in June, 2005 – when elections were expected for the end of 2006 - and was originally scheduled to complete its work last month.


Ben-Bassat, a former director general of the finance ministry with a lot of experience in these types of commissions, pressed his team to finish their work on time, so the findings would not be taken "politically."


Anyone who knows Ben-Bassat's record can assume there was something else here: when he was at the finance ministry, he was asked by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak to head a commission that would make recommendations about tax reform.


The commission released its findings, but Barak's government had already collapsed, with barely 30 MKs supporting the government, and he couldn't push through the reforms.


Abandoned report


The government fell, a new prime minister and a new finance minister took over. This minister, Silvan Shalom, a politician to the very core, delayed implementing the reforms because he wanted to go down as the person that reformed the tax code. He was looking for a memorial statue engraved with the words, "This tax reform was established by Silvan Shalom."


Ben-Bassat gave up hope his recommendations would ever be implemented, quit his job, and Shalom established a new committee that gave the Ben-Bassat report a cosmetic makeup.


The process was repeated again by Finance Minister Netanyahu, who in turn refused to sign on to a report issued by a Shalom-appointed commission. In the meanwhile, a lot of time and money were lost.


This time, Ben-Bassat apparently wanted to hurry up and finish the job before the government changed again – and again he didn't make it. Governments almost always finish too quickly.


Public failure


This failure is built into Israel's political system: government's don't last long enough, and the span of political visibility is only a few months.


In addition, the public fails to create an atmosphere of threat, that if the politicians fail to do good by them – and of course one can argue about whether shorter military service falls into this category - the politicians will suffer.


Government ministers know they will never be judged on what they didn't do. In any event, who really knows what the defense minister or the education minister does? Who asks them to account for their time in office?


And so Ben-Bassat and his people, working hard and diligently, managed to get out their report before the elections. Mofaz made the press conference his own, but the plan has the funds to back it up, IDF backing and all the other conditions to see it through, will not move until after a new government has been established, sometime mid-year.


Whether Mofaz continues as defense minister or not, the report depends on the good will of people who have other things on their minds at the moment.


And so it will continue, as long as the public refuses to learn its lesson and demands its rightful due – in education, security, and every other area the government is supposed to provide.


פרסום ראשון: 02.14.06, 14:40
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