Israel Can Afford F-35s—But Can’t Afford to Train Its Troops
When weapons are more important than people
There’s something wrong when a military can pay for expensive weapons but can’t, or won’t, pay to train troops to use them.
Israel will spend almost $3 billion to buy just 19 American-made F-35 stealth fighters. At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces canceled training for IDF reservists for the remainder of 2014 owing to budget shortfalls.
Now it appears that the Defense Ministry might rescind the training cuts. The IDF signed off on the construction of 16,000 civilian apartments on a military section of a small airport, in return for a billion shekels from the Finance Ministry.
Leaving aside the question of how military preparedness has anything to do with real estate deal, it’s troubling that the IDF was willing to eliminate reserve training under any circumstance—especially with a civil war raging in neighboring Syria and what many Israelis see as inevitable conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Actually, it’s more than troubling. It’s downright foolish. A major reason for the dismal performance of Israeli ground troops in the 2006 Lebanon War was poor training.
Some tank crews, for example, barely knew how to operate their vehicles. They went up against Hezbollah, who had spent years rigorously training its fighters to defend against an Israeli offensive.
Superior training has always been a reason why Israel usually emerged the victor in Arab-Israeli wars. Except that in 2006, it was Hezbollah who was better trained and prepared. If there is any nation that can’t risk having an army that less well-trained than its numerically superior enemies, it’s Israel.
It would be silly to blame this solely on the F-35. Military pensions are taking a bigger bite out of the defense budget, according to the Times of Israel. Fear of a war with Hezbollah this summer also spurred the IDF to spend its 2014 training budget on accelerated training in the first half of the year.
But the real reason may actually be more cynical. Some Israelis suspect that the military pulled the plug on training as a way to extort more funding from the government.
Was it a surprise that, in a nation where many citizens continue to serve in the reserves after their mandatory military services, some reservists launched a Facebook protest demanding training be restored?
The Defense Ministry “propagandists were cynically using the practice and training soldiers need in order to improve their negotiating position versus the treasury,” an Israeli reservist complained on Facebook.
Unfortunately, these same issues afflict the United States. The Pentagon is spending $392 billion for 2,457 F-35s. To pay for this, the Air Force wants to ground its cheap and effective A-10 attack planes. There are other expensive weapons on the way, such as new Ford-class aircraft carriers and a new Air Force bomber.
As Israel learned while fighting Hezbollah, a weapon is only as good as the human being operating it.