IDF Ombudsman Maj. Gen. (res) Yitzhak Brik proffered exceptionally scathing criticism of the Israel Defense Forces’ manpower policy, expressing himself in a letter he sent this week to senior officers and members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Brik, who will be ending 10 years in the post in January, documented a long list of conversations with dozens of standing army officers and noncommissioned officers in a variety of branches, divisions and units. The army people with whom the ombudsman spoke described a mediocre organization that suffers from burnout because it is overburdened, the senior command’s lack of attention to problems and a serious motivation crisis among young officers, who, given the situation in their units, aren’t interested in remaining in the army. Brik warned that the manpower crisis undermines the IDF’s readiness for war and quotes field officers who warn that the IDF brass is marketing a false image of readiness that doesn’t reflect reality.
In his letter, the ombudsman quotes the commander of a standing army brigade who told him that he’d become the voice of commanders who feared to speak out. According to the brigade commander, “a situation has been created in the IDF in which no one dares to offer criticism at conferences and no one talks about problems. The generals show us a presentation that indicates the situation is excellent, but they are dealing with image, not with substance. We [the field officers] have turned into a bunch of cowards. I’m embarrassed that I too have stopped bringing up problems at conferences; unfortunately it would only do me damage. In any case things fall on deaf ears.”
Brik adds that the commanders of standing battalions and brigades admit that they encounter a real difficulty in signing up good-quality company commanders for lengthy service in the standing army. In the past, several good officers would compete for every position. Now a special effort is being made to recruit them and in a good number of cases, the army settles for those who are less qualified. “According to them, the situation is only getting worse,” Brik writes.
The ombudsman’s letter is another chapter in the dispute between him and the senior IDF command, which had already become public. Last week, Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot referred to the ombudsman’s earlier complaints during a closed session of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Eisenkot accepted part of the criticism on the problems in the IDF’s organizational culture and discipline, which had appeared in the ombudsman’s annual report published in June. On the other hand, he rebuffed Brik’s warning about the harm being done to the IDF’s preparedness for war, saying the ombudsman lacks the authority and the tools to systematically examine these aspects, and that the reality in the units is completely different.