Photo: Gil Nehushtan
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
Photo: Gil Nehushtan
Ron Ben-Yishai

Cancellation of reservist training a legitimate call for help

Analysis: IDF chief of staff announces end of all reservist training for 2014; Cash-strapped IDF has no other options to save the billions needed to maintain operational capability.

The speech given by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz at a conference for Israeli army reservists Monday evening was a cry for help that stems from legitimate distress.



His announcement that reservists won't be training for the remainder of 2014 wasn't an attempt to manipulate or put pressure on Finance Minister Yair Lapid, it was simply the truth of the situation.


In fact, this is a reality that the security cabinet and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had forced upon the IDF in a meeting about the military budget last October. The decision made by the security cabinet and the current situation are the direct consequence of an utter lack of responsibility.


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It's important to stress that in reality, a freeze on reservist training does not mean that the IDF will suffer military defeat in the next conflict it engages in.


But what the lack of training does mean is that the next IDF conflict will be drawn out far longer than otherwise necessary, which translates into greater civilian losses within Israel and greater military losses on the battlefield.


Considering the current state of the region, we seem due for a fresh conflict at any moment, and the Israel Air Force will be the first responders, as they always have been.


Due to a shortage of trained soldiers, both the Air Force and ground troops who are meant to respond with haste to quell rocket barrages won't be able to do so as speedily as they do today, which will delay the movement of additional troops meant to be deployed under rocket-free skies.


In order to maintain the quick pace of IDF operations, reservists will have to join the fight with or without the proper training. If these reservists aren't trained for the rest of 2014, the IDF can only pray that the next round of violence doesn't come before the second half of 2015, in the expectation that the required forces are combat ready by then.


If the danger is so great, is reservist training the only cutback that the IDF can make in this round of austerity measures in order to meet its budget? The answer is an unequivocal yes.


Why? Because the IDF budget is short of 2-3 billion shekels (according to a security cabinet meeting of October 2013) and that money can't be taken from the US military aid package, nor can it be taken from other areas such as, for example, military procurement.


Exacerbating the problem is the fact that expensive contracts have already been signed with military contractors such as those producing components for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The IDF also has everyday expenses like food, fuel and repairs, and is already spending the bare minimum to keep the military apparatus functioning.


Justifiably, the IDF doesn't want to take money away from conscripted soldiers who would be the first responders in a military conflict. Moreover, conscript units are already operationally active on Israel's borders and in the West Bank in place of reserve forces who, as a cost-cutting measure, aren't being called up.


If training were to be taken away from the conscripted soldiers instead, the IDF would disintegrate completely. Therefore, the only way that officials have to potentially save billions is to cut back on training its reserve troops.


Some will no doubt suggest that money be saved instead by cutting back on the budget for the Ministry of Defense and the defense apparatus. That makes sense, but the simple truth is that even a deep cut (which has already taken place in several areas and operations of defense) won't save billions; in fact, it would barely save more than a few million.


Local authorities aren't giving up on the property tax they charge the Ministry of Defense, the IDF and the Ministry of Finance. Furthermore, the tax authorities refuse to give up on the tax they collect from fuel that the Defense Ministry purchases from the US, an absurd stubbornness.


Military officials really have no other option but to cut back on reservist training, meaning serious damage in the IDF ability to quickly neutralize rocket attacks in the event of a military conflict in the near future.


The most outrageous part of all this is that the security cabinet knew all of these details and predicted their eventual outcome in meetings last October.


The IDF and security officials have made the situation clear in an unmistakable manner, but Netanyahu and the cabinet ministers chose to postpone the final decision on the military budget even when the chief of staff and defense minister protested.


The thought was that perhaps in the meantime Israel would find new sources of revenue. Ministers said that maybe a new gas field would be discovered, or tax profits might rise considerably, or Lapid could leave the government and the new finance minister would see to it that the IDF would get the funds it needed, adding to the national deficit, which was found to be smaller than previously thought.


But the defense establishment isn't entirely free of blame. Most importantly, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon shouldn't have agreed to the cabinet decision on cuts, made despite a multitude of warnings by Ya'alon and Gantz when they realized that there would be no money to fund the IDF for the second half of 2014.


The chief of staff on the other hand, couldn't do much to overrule the poor choice by the cabinet, as his job is to accept the decisions made by those who outrank him or quit.


But Gantz didn't quit, even though in private meetings he suggested that the cabinet's decision and the fact that the government had not yet approved a multi-year IDF working plan constitute a virtual death blow to the security of Israel's citizens and will most likely end up costing lives.


And even now that the facts are known and the threat of canceling reservist training materialized, Netanyahu still isn't concerned enough to call a cabinet meeting. The finance minister doesn't seem to be too bothered either.


On the other side, the media is carrying out an attack on the "fat" that the IDF is using to pad their failures and the media is enjoying firing at an immobile target. Why? Because the defense budget isn't clear or transparent.


Therefore the argument over the defense budget is carried out partly through the populism of politicians and partly through ignorance among the public and the media, which stifles any serious debate on the subject - not to mention a very real cry for help by a distressed chief of staff. 


פרסום ראשון: 05.20.14, 17:49
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