One of the fault lines opening up in recent years in Israel in the formerly sweeping and solid public support for the military is a growing disaffection with military salaries, military pensions and financial perks for officers and ex-officers.
A symptom and a benchmark of the extreme militarization of state in Israel, the national security budget, by far the largest one allocated to any government ministry in Israel, is not open to detailed examination by elected representatives. Israel's law makers, the people supposedly in charge of dispensing funds to the various ministries for implementation of their policies, are not privy to a transparent breakdown of the security budget, ostensibly due to security risks. Then, following its non-transparent and thus partly fictitious approval by Israel's parliament, actual execution of the budget by the Ministry of Defense (mostly via the army) is only partly open to monitoring by the relevant state officials.
The item (sloppily translated) below, from the Haaretz financial section "The Marker" recounts the recent discovery of an instance of rule-bending to ensure a lavish pension for an ex-top-officer. Much more significantly, however, it reports that quite recently, "the Defense Ministry's accountant, Tzahi Malah, was authorized for the first time ever to examine IDF [Israel Defense Force] salaries. Malah subsequently began an inspection, during which he became suspicious at an early point that there were irregularities." At this point, however, his inspection "was brought to an abrupt halt" and the army has subsequently continued to block the inspection by 'making difficulties'.
"It appears," financial journalist Meirav Arlosoroff concluded, "that there is no one who can bring the IDF to disclose its data. The ministry in charge of supervising the army, the Defense Ministry, has … given up on the desire to clash with the IDF [… and] leaves such battles to … its accountant, who is a Finance Ministry official … [with] no power to force the IDF to disclose the data …"
Notably, the US, a major donor to Israel's defense budget, doesn't seem to expect transparency or controls against corruption at the receiving end, either at the level of government or at that of the military.
As revealing as this incident is, however, regarding the question of who, exactly, is governing Israel—the army or elected representatives—I believe, at this point, that the investigative initiative itself and the ensuing media coverage may in fact be more important. They are evidence of emerging failures in the army's grip on civil society and on state resources.
One such "resource" on which the army's hold has been weakening consistently over recent years is the annual cohort of 18-year-old prospective conscripts. Less and less of these young people are in fact complying with conscription law. The relentless statistics recently led the Chief of Staff to confront a hall full of high school principals with a proposition for "national service" for all, in a bid to retain the army's "first choice" of candidates (for Hebrew report on this event see: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1132151.html; also see in Hebrew: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/973/614.html, for details on the police gagging of New Profile activists protesting the intensified militarization of high schools, outside the hall).
This weakening grip is not an inevitably linear or one-way process, though. As exemplified by the recent step-up of military intervention in Israel's high schools and the new "national service" proposal, the military and much of the ruling elite that it helps keep in power continue 'making difficulties' to obstruct and reverse the process. It is up to the organizations and the people of civil society in Israel to keep it going, to end militarization.
Last update - 14:16 03/12/2009
Revealed: The secret war over IDF officers' exorbitant salaries
By Meirav Arlosoroff, The Marker
The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, has a monthly salary of NIS 68,060; a major general makes NIS 48,265 a month; and a brigadier general makes NIS 39,340 a month. The average monthly salary in Israel is close to NIS 8,000. While questions are occasionally raised as to the disparity between these sums, it appears that there are other potentially highly inflammatory data about military wages that the army is hiding.
This week, The Marker revealed that MK Nahman Shai will receive the pension of a brigadier general for his whole life, after only having held the rank for less than three years (as head of the IDF Spokespersons' Unit), despite the fact that to receive such a salary, an officer needs to have served at the rank for more than three years. In order to enable the Kadima lawmaker to receive the lavish pension, valued at an estimated NIS 3 million, the Israel Defense Forces arranged for Shai to take an unpaid vacation for almost five years - which enabled him to buy a huge pension at the expense of the public purse, at a dirt cheap price.
Whoever questions how the IDF cooks up these shady deals regarding senior officers' leaving conditions, and how the deals are not exposed and criticized, will receive an answer immediately. The simple answer is that everything connected to the terms of military pensions remains unknown, beyond any kind of external supervision. A very senior defense establishment official described the matter as a "black box" that is at the center of a quarrel between the Finance Ministry and the IDF. This took place after the Defense Ministry's accountant, Tzahi Malah, was authorized for the first time ever to examine IDF salaries. Malah subsequently began an inspection, during which he became suspicious at an early point that there were irregularities. Apparently these were found in the way in which the army credits major generals' complementary cars as being taxed.
But Malah's inspection was brought to an abrupt halt at the very moment suspicions arose of irregularities in IDF salaries. "The Defense Ministry accountant began the check, which raised suspicions of alleged salary irregularities, but the check was not completed," a defense establishment recalled. "The check has been carried sluggishly since then, due to difficulties the army has made."
"Making difficulties" is apparently an understatement for how the army simply booted Malah out, banning him from continuing to inspect salaries. Since then, the Finance Ministry's accountant general has been holding negotiations with the IDF, in an attempt to allow for the inspection to continue; in the meantime, the talks have been fruitless.
The fact that the army's system for wage payments is beyond the supervision of the Defense Ministry's accountant sparks considerable dismay. In complete contrast to this, the accountant can check every other payment made in the Defense Ministry - payments that are made through the Enterprise Resource Planning system, to which the accountant has access.
The IDF's payment system, however, is not included in the ministry's ERP software, a situation for which the army has many reasons. "The IDF's wages system was built many years ago; the IDF has no motivation for joining the ERP system, and this upgrade is being currently examined within budgetary limits," the IDF relayed. These excuses do not cover the fact that the accountant in the Defense Ministry is blind as far as military salaries are concerned. He reports on a monthly basis on the data the army gives him, but he has no direct access to the system from which this comes.
Not only does Malah have no direct access, but when suspicions are raised as to problems in the system, the army "makes difficulties" until the end of the inspections. There is a culture of cooperation in the Defense Ministry with the in-house accountant (despite the mistakes made during the Paris Air Show). But this culture is completely non-existent in the IDF, it appears.
What will bring the IDF to disclose the data?
It is reasonable to assume that whoever makes difficulties and whoever refuses to cooperate with inspections apparently has something he wants to hide. However, it is impossible to know how much he has that he wishes to hide while the IDF's salary date is not disclosed.
But it appears that there is no one who can bring the IDF to disclose its data. The ministry in charge of supervising the army, the Defense Ministry, has shirked the responsibility and given up on the desire to clash with the IDF on the matter. The ministry leaves such battles to be fought by its accountant, who is a Finance Ministry official - and everyone is comfortable with the Treasury waging wars.
The Finance Ministry, however, has no power to force the IDF to disclose the data; this is wielded only by the political establishment. In Israel's leadership, as is widely know, the futures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak depend on one another; therefore, it is doubtful whether a politician can be found who will force Barak to make such a disclosure.
The IDF says in response that it "operates with full transparency and cooperates with the Defense Ministry and income tax in everything connected to the issue of wages. Salary data is transferred automatically to the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry accountant at the Defense Ministry every month.
"In the IDF, inspections are carried out by income tax auditors, and all of their recommendations are fully implemented. An Inspection by the Defense Ministry accountant has recently been held in the IDF, and in these days there is another check by income tax [auditors] has begun; both inspections have been carried out with full cooperation by the IDF."
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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