The Israeli Air Force has a morale
problem, and a recent opinion survey revealed that about half the fighter
pilots plan to leave the military over the next few years. This is not a sudden
development, and has been building for some time. For example, over the last decade,
more Israeli Air Force squadrons have been moved to bases in the south. This
meant that pilots and their families lived in more rural areas, and the wives
had trouble finding jobs, or were not happy with a long commute to their old
ones. Then there was the increasing number of offers of employment in civil
aviation. This would mean more money, less time on the job, and better living
conditions. But the biggest gripe was the bad press the air force got last year
when the use of air power against Hizbollah did not live up to expectations.
This was mostly the fault of the senior brass in the air force, who had come up
with the "we can do it all from the air" plan in the first place. Many pilots
thought this approach was overly ambitious, and now morale has collapsed, as
many long-time problems caught up with the air force.
The Israelis are not the only ones having a hard
time holding on to military pilots, but it's particularly critical for Israel,
since the air force is such a large part of national defense. Israel depends on
the quality of its pilots to defeat the much larger air forces of its Moslem
neighbors. Air force commanders are using patriotic appeals to wavering pilots,
and the government is considering increasing pay. This has worked for the United
States, as have news of bad experiences some military pilots have had in civil
aviation. The main problem there is the lack of job security, and the fact that
it can take five years, or more, for a military pilot to work themselves up to
the pay they were getting when they left the service.
Many pilots leaving active service would still be
in the reserves, so it would not be a total loss. But if too many pilots
depart, the overall quality of the full time Israeli pilots would decline. This
could lead to much higher losses in the opening days of a war.