Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Catbird Seat

When Ron Ben Ishai, the military correspondent for the Yideot Achranot newspaper, writes something, he’s usually on the money. Ben Ishai laid into the Israeli Army for dancing around the State Comptroller’s report that came out on Monday.

According to Ben Ishai the Israeli army has no choice but to heed the harsh criticism leveled at the defense establishment, and make speedy changes. Ben Ishai says that in times of peace the Army can dawdle, but in today’s climate, when the Army has itself predicted another conflict with Hezbollah by the summer of 2007, and talks about the distinct possibility of a large military move by the IDF into Gaza, Israel cannot allow the defense establishment to drag its feet implementing much needed changes.

But this is not all of the ammunition Ben Ishai fires at the ruling establishment.
In an earlier column he wrote that the Israeli public has genuine cause for concern, not only because of the internal squabbling of the government leadership. “The other, more severe reason is the degeneration of the public administration and its corruption, which led to a worrisome decline in the execution ability of almost all government arms – ministries, the IDF, and also the police.”

Ben Ishai goes on to write, “This paralysis is first and foremost the result of decades of political corruption that was mainly manifested through thousands of improper appointments of unsuitable people to key posts – ranging from the appointment of political "foot soldiers" used to garner support for politicians to posts of director generals and branch mangers, to creating needless posts for minister loyalists.”

Veteran Haaretz military commentator Zev Shiff, is also not happy with the way the army is exercising its obligation to protect the Israeli public. Shiff, writing about the Comptroller’s Report, said, “The report exposes serious shortcomings: there is insufficient training of division commanders; no new instruction manuals for senior commanders have been published for years; most of the instructors lack education and experience in teaching on matters of national security at an academic level; orders given by the chief of staff are not being carried out; and there are financial irregularities that require the involvement of the military advocate general.”

In Shiff’s opinion, lack of sufficient training of the top officers in the army is one of the main reasons Israel’s army isn’t up to par. “The result is that at its highest echelons, the IDF relies on a doctrine that is preserved almost as oral tradition, which is dangerous because of the various interpretations and the different use of language at the senior command levels.”

In short: a “Balagan.” A mess. According to the Comptroller, the Army has three different names for a battle plan, each leaving open mistakes in interpretation..

Will the army get its act together in time to defend the country in case of another war?
One has to assume that Israel’s enemies are reading these same reports, and wondering the same things. If the next war goes anything like the War in Lebanon II, Israel’s enemies can only be expected to come out even farther ahead. During the last war, rather than living up to the image of Israel the fierce little David defeating Goliath on the battle-field, it was more like the Three Stooges stepping on each other’s feet trying to get out of the way of a runaway wagon.

The idea that Gal Hirsch, the General in charge of the Northern Front at the outbreak of the war, was responsible for all of the Army’s failures is clearly mistaken. According to the recent report, the army is in such a disorganized state, with such a bloated out dated inefficient bureaucracy that it’s a wonder worse things didn’t happen.

One analyst thinks the problem is that the army has simply grown too large and unwieldy. Units were combined, forces were merged, and commanders were suddenly responsible for even larger numbers of troops and more complex operations. Some have said the units should be scaled back in size, making them more manageable.

Gen. Hirsch was criticized for his inability to handle a combined ground, air, and artillery attack on Lebanon. The Comptroller’s report indicates that none of the top commanders are receiving the proper training that would allow them to manage these complicated attacks.

But what does the average citizen know of the inner workings of the Israeli army, or the government? The average Israeli goes into the army, does their military duty, serves their time, reports for reserve duty, and encourages their children to do the same.

The recent call-up date of the inductees into the army was fully subscribed. Commentators may level their criticisms, but the average Yossi Israeli still shows up at the age of 18 ready to serve in the army. Given all of the dirt tossed around between the government and the army this little detail is amazing. Kids are still ready to serve their country, go to war, follow their commanders into battle.

The inability of the government to make time-critical decisions, to rise to the challenge and supply the country with the goods and services it needs in times of war, took its toll in the summer of 2006. According to analysts, in the past it was the government, the middle managers, who stepped up and saved the day while the highest echelons waffled. This time the inefficiency filtered down even to those people. It was up to volunteers, like those in the Jewish Agency, to step in and fill the void left by the paralyzed government.

Given the serious existential threats facing Israel, there is legitimate cause for concern. One only hopes that the powers that be, including the One up above, realize how serious the situation can become. But then, again, the One up above always seems to be there, helping out, to the chagrin of Israel’s enemies. Let’s hope the Army and the Government step up and do their part, just in case He’s busy elsewhere..