IDF to fire 700 career personnel

The Israel Defense Forces say budget cuts mean layoffs, less training, and cancelling procurements of weapons systems.

The IDF intends firing 700 career officers and NCOs in all branches in the coming months, as part of a general cutback following the cut in the defense budget. The officers and NCOs will be notified within weeks about the loss of their jobs, which will come into effect in May and June.

A senior officer told "Globes", "I will sit down with each one of them, and inform him that he has been fired. By June, they will be out of a job, and they will enter the civilian job market, and I greatly hope that they will find new work. I am afraid what message this is sending a message down the ranks, to the young generation of soldiers who will want to serve in the army in the future. A crisis of confidence is liable to emerge there."

The firing of hundreds of career officers and NCOs comes at a time of uncertainty in the defense establishment, with the complete halt in expenditures due to the budget shortage and Ministry of Finance's demands for cutbacks to finance the social program proposed by the Trajtenberg Committee. The halt in expenditures is already jeopardizing the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, with the Ministry of Defense notifying the manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. that it will not procure two more batteries, and halting the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Rafael and Ratheon Company (NYSE: RTN) for the Magic Wand rocket interceptor; and the halt in orders to 200 Israeli companies that manufacture components for the Merkava tank and the new Leopard APC.

A top military source said that the halt in orders to keep production of the Merkava going could result in a shortage of spare parts by mid-year, nor would there be any need for new orders for the Trophy antitank missile systems for the Merkava Mark IV tank.

The cutbacks are also affecting the IDF's training schedule. "We have to decide which risks we'll have to take: procure another Iron Dome battery, or training of troops. It's all a matter of available money. I prefer training the troops who are the most important for the front line at the expense of a few interceptors. The troops whom we don’t need in the front line, we'll train in another couple of years. It's a question of priorities; it's risk management. And it's a tough dilemma," a senior officer told "Globes".

In the past few years, the IDF greatly increased its training of its regular forces and reservists, following the skills gap uncovered in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. During the fighting, it was realized that forces were sent into the field without having received training for years, partly because of the previous round of budget cuts. "We have to be careful not to repeat that mistake," warned a defense official last week.

The IDF's multiyear procurement plans are also in doubt. Every item is being rethought. For example, the new 120-mm Keshet mortar system being developed by Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) will probably have to wait.

"There are weapons systems that we won't buy - and our ability to wage war in the immediate future will not be affected. The IDF is well prepared for a war, but we must not forget that the enemy has upgraded the weapons that it will point at us in the next confrontation. In some cases, the gaps are narrowing, and it's worrying," said the officer. "Once, a Syrian Army squad had one piece of night vision equipment. Now it has three. 40% of Hizbullah forces have long-range night vision equipment. We are aware of this, and we know about it, and we must provide good responses at all levels."

Tomorrow, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) convened a special emergency session on the Ministry of Defense's decision to halt orders for Merkava tank components.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 12, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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