Barak Mofaz- Olivier Pitoussi
Ehud Barak, left, and Shaul Mofaz discuss the defense budget. Photo by Olivier Pitoussi
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The Knesset Finance Committee gave its nod to the budget bill for 2011-12 yesterday. Next Wednesday the budget will be submitted for a Knesset vote on all three legislative readings required for it to become law. The defense establishment's demand for increased funding will be considered separately by the Knesset next month.

The defense establishment is expected to have NIS 2-3 billion added to its budget at the beginning of the year, senior officials at the Knesset said yesterday. This is expected after the Knesset Defense Budget Committee approved the two-year defense budget without additions. The first indication of a supplementary amount for defense came yesterday when the Finance Ministry submitted a request to the Knesset Finance Committee to increase the 2010 defense budget by NIS 400 million. This comes on top of the NIS 3.5 billion transferred to the defense establishment over the course of the current year.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week made a demand for a NIS 6 billion supplement to the two-year defense budget beyond the budget approved by the cabinet in July. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has been adamantly opposed to the additional funding, but the defense and finance ministries have come to an agreement with the Prime Minister's Office that the NIS 6 billion request would be brought to the Knesset for consideration in January 2011. As a result, the Defense Budget Committee did not touch the defense budget, approving NIS 54.2 billion for 2011 and NIS 55.6 billion for 2012.

It was against the backdrop of the tension between the defense and finance ministers that the Knesset Defense Budget Committee convened yesterday. Initially it appeared that the NIS 6 billion request would scuttle approval of the defense budget, but ultimately the committee was advised that a compromise had been worked out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak. Committee members then complained that they were not being provided with details of what had been worked out, demanding to know, for example, the source of any additional funding.

Defense officials then agreed to provide the details to Shaul Mofaz, who chairs the Defense Budget Committee, a joint panel composed of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Finance Committee.

After stepping into a side room to consult with Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, director general of the Prime Minister's Office Eyal Gabbai and Finance Ministry budget director Udi Nissan, Mofaz expressed support for a defense budget increase and said he was convinced that any increase would not be at the expense of social service spending.

In response to a question from Meretz MK Haim Oron, Nissan said no one harbored illusions that the budget would remain unchanged, but there was no agreement on a supplement to the defense budget. He said there were ways of funding an increase without across-the-board cuts to other ministries.

Oron complained that after all the praise heaped on the concept of a two-year budget, "it will be changed by major proportions."

The Defense Ministry said in response: "The defense establishment is not challenging the defense budget as it was approved by the cabinet a few months ago.

As is done every year, the defense establishment has presented the joint Defense Budget Committee ... its work plan for 2011 to 2012 and the gaps between the needs of the [defense] establishment for a defense budget, as was also presented to the cabinet before it approved the budget. We regret that there are various people who are working to create a battle where none exists."