In the coming days, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is expected to announce the appointment of Major General Gadi Eizenkot as the next IDF chief of staff. But the army that will be awaiting Eizenkot on February 15, 2015 will be significantly smaller than the one that awaited his predecessor Benny Gantz – and will be reduced further during his time in office. This trend of drastic contraction, which began this year, has not been seen by the IDF since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The defense establishment has enjoyed a budget of tens of billions of dollars each year, but the amount designated for the military is decreasing. A process of significant reduction was begun by the IDF this year and is expected to be completed in August, 2018.
It is primarily noticeable in the number of men in uniform. Last year, the IDF reduced the numbers in its reserves by significant percentages, and tens of thousands of reservists have been prematurely released from their annual duty.
As a result there has been a reduction in the allocation of troops. Until now, battalions had been calling up a large number of reservists, many times greater than the soldiers required, to ensure that the necessary amount of soldiers would actually arrive. Now, however, the battalions have been left with a far smaller “margin of safety”. This means a greater risk of too few reservists in the event of an emergency mobilization.
And the IDF will feel the reduction even among conscript soldiers. Most young people who will enlist in August will serve four months less than before. Only in some combat units – depending on the needs of the army – will soldiers be able to sign up and complete three full years of service.
There have also been painful cuts among career soldiers. In the next year and a half, the IDF is expected to lay off about 4,500 career officers and NCOs, most of them members of the general staff. Approximately 1,800 of them have already been discharged. The army prefers to assign the highest quality of career soldiers to “heavyweight” units such as cyber systems, the Iron Dome and submarines.
In addition to the extensive layoffs, the army is having trouble convincing more and more quality officers and NCOs, which it wants, to sign up in the first place. Unlike the senior officers, salaries are low for junior officers and NCOs, and – astoundingly – 25 percent of career soldiers cannot make their salaries last the month and have to seek supplemental sources of income.
And the IDF has another problem – its commanders, especially in combat units, are too old.
Officers are only given command of a battalion at the age of 37, and command of a brigade by colonels (“seniors”) comes at the age of 45. In comparison, the current chief of staff, Benny Gantz, was a battalion commander by the age of 28. As a result of the current situation, many officers prefer to give up on such demanding service.
“A young commander should be light on his feet, able to walk the territory with his fighters and lead exercises,” explains a senior officer. “We need young and hungry company commanders, not officers who by the age 32 have already had five different roles.”
How did this happen? The IDF previously suffered criticism for the young retirement age of its career soldiers, but the army now realizes that the increased length of service in various positions, designed to delay the age of retirement, was excessive.
The IDF is now formulating a plan to lower the age of retirement. Most officers will now doff their uniform for good before the age of 47 (retirement age), and instead of bridging pensions, they will receive a one-off payment.