Transparency International just published an index measuring levels of corruption in defense spending and military policy for nations around the world. Israel placed in Band D, just above the middle rank. The summary of concerns listed in the analysis was:
…While formal provisions for legislative oversight of defence policy do exist in the form of a permanent Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee…the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is reluctant to cooperate fully with these processes. As a result, the influence that parliament can exert over defence policy is limited. In recent years it has been found that the government has become increasingly intolerant toward civil society organisations that actively criticise defence and security policies. Generally speaking, public debate on issues of defence is rare.
…The defence budget lacks transparency.
…Public commitment to anti-corruption measures by leaders in the defence sector are found to be infrequent, though are sometimes expressed in the wake of an incident. There is little transparency with regard to numbers of civilian and military personnel.
Government policy is recognised to be weak in relation to defence procurement. There is no specific legislation relating to defence procurement, and information on the procurement cycle is not available to the public. There are examples of large-scale defence purchases occurring at the request of the Israeli Defence Forces, but without any clearly outlined justification of needs.
There is much that is commendable in this report concerning Israeli defense policy bearing on corruption. It’s a blessing in itself to have an independent international body measure Israel in relation to other nations. This is something that the IDF would never undertake for fear of what it might expose.
But there is too much in the survey that is superficial and misapprehends the IDF reality. For example, the report says:
…There is no evidence to show that organised crime has penetrated Israel’s defence sector.
While in relation to other countries that may be controlled by such organizations, Israel is free of such gangsterism, this statement doesn’t properly appreciate the absolute power the IDF wields in Israeli society and the absolute way in which it wields it. In other words, though the mafia may not control IDF budget and procurement policy, those who do are a civilized domestic version of the mafia. Not only is the military budget entirely opaque, many procurement decisions are opaque. Contracts are awarded based as much on cronyism as on merit. Officers retire from military service only to cross over to the industry sector thus creating a Good Old [Ashkenazi] Boy network. Instances of generals who grow wealthy from post-career defense consulting are rife. Ehud Barak, whose wealth was estimated by Forbes Israel at $8-million (a large sum for Israel), is a perfect example. When he returns to private life shortly, the spigot will reopen.
Additionally, while internally there may not be a high level of corruption, Israeli defense contractors readily pay bribes to foreign nations to procure contracts. Such behavior is almost never sanctioned in any way. In fact, it’s viewed by the nation (not just the contractor) as the cost of doing business. If that’s what it takes to win a contract, then so be it–is the prevailing attitude.
Here is another statement that misleads:
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) does not employ private military contractors (PMCs), which reduces the attendant corruption risk.
While the IDF may not employ such contractors, much of the policing that enforces the Occupation is parceled out to such contractors. Security in highly-volatile zones like East Jerusalem is also contracted to private companies which often exercise brute force that is even more troubling than the worst that Israeli police authorities have to offer. In the West Bank, settlers patrol their settlements and exert force at whatever level they deem necessary often leading to murder and maiming of unarmed civilians.
Though I understand the purpose of the survey was to measure corruption and not specifically political criteria, in the Israeli context they inevitably bleed into each other. When the security policy of a country is predicated on theft on a national scale of the lands of another people, the entire modus operandi of the defense apparatus is based on corruption.
If Israel were the only country being rated, my judgment is that it should’ve ranked even lower. But the fact is that there are far more corrupt countries in the world that make Israel look decent in comparison. It’s all relative.
And lest any Israel boosters take this as an endorsement. Here are some of the other countries with which Israel shares Band D: Ukraine, Lebanon, Serbia and United Arab Emirates. Not exactly paragons of transparency I’d say.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.