Monday, December 07, 2009

Israel: an army with a country...

Ha'aretz, hat tip Jews sans Frontieres.

Revelations of the pension that Kadima MK and former IDF spokesperson Nachman Shai will receive from the army - an example of the generous and hidden conditions doled out in the Israel Defense Forces - only lend validity to the cliche that we are an army that has a country.

Thus one may also add the tongue-lashing delivered by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi against the prime minister during the discussions surrounding the state budget, when the government ventured to broach the issue of raising the retirement age for army officers in service.

The defense establishment is, for all intents and purposes, a distinct sector.

From the defense minister to the army, its senior officers who serve in the standing army to those who leave the service, to the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad; all of these entities comprise a group which operates with full autonomy.

The defense establishment has a hierarchy, institutions, services, media outlets and its own legal system. It has nearly unlimited resources in the form of real estate (close to half of the land in the state is in the hands of the army and is managed exclusively by the army), personnel (Israeli citizens within a wide range of ages stand at its disposal without pay and are used as the army sees fit), and the largest budget in the state, a budget of which no one outside of the defense establishment really knows the details.

This is a community of the privileged, a vast majority of whom are men enjoying bloated salaries, pensions and generous employment benefits in addition to unblemished reputations as individuals who "risk their lives for the security of the state."

They also enjoy immunity from criticism and others meddling in their affairs because, after all, they protect our very existence. There is no more symbolic indication of this group's superior status than the fact that the chief of staff earns a salary nearly twice that of the prime minister.

Those who truly risk their lives are in the minority, and most of them do not belong to the highest strata of the group. The clique itself - like every clique - is preoccupied with first and foremost preserving its own security: its interests, its standing, its benefits and those of the individuals comprising it.

As the benefits improve, the interest to preserve them grows further. The power wielded by the security establishment grows whenever Israel finds itself in a situation where it faces "an existential threat" and "a security danger."

It is then that it pours money, its best people, its energies and its skills into defense. This is what happens when the interests of the defense sector diverge from the interests of the state which subsidizes it and which it purports to defend.

The interests differ to the point where they run opposite each other. Israel wants to provide its citizens with a life of serenity; to develop education, welfare, health, science and the arts.

It wants to end the conflicts and the wars and live in peace with its neighbors.

Yet without threats and wars, the defense establishment loses the rationale for its existence and the individuals comprising it lose their substantial clout, which is also worth a great deal of money.

In its behavior vis-a-vis the state, the defense sector is similar to the Haredi community. Both of them use the state and its resources in order to nurture and aggrandize their people, their way of life and their worldviews. The only difference between them is their religion.

The citizens, the land, and the money in the hands of the army can be of great benefit to the state in a number of areas. It would also be possible to prevent environmental and humane hazards if the state started to run the army, and not vice versa.


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