Yuval Steinitz - Tomer Appelbaum
Yuval Steinitz. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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From 2009, Israel's defense establishment received NIS 13 billion more than it was supposed to under the Brodet commission guidelines, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday.

Steinitz asked to address the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee himself, after an appearance two weeks ago by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The finance minister then elaborated the overspending year by year and brought rather different figures than Barak had.

The Brodet commission, headed by economist David Brodet, recommended that the defense budget be increased by NIS 10 billion during a period of 10 years, starting in 2008. During that time, the army should become more efficient, making the money stretch farther.

In 2009 the defense establishment received NIS 1.5 billion more than the Brodet guidelines (mostly because of Operation Cast Lead ). In 2010 the extra totaled NIS 3.3 billion, then this year it has come to NIS 4.5 billion, Steinitz said. As for next year, another NIS 3.76 billion has been allocated. That comes to just over NIS 13 billion all told.

The Trajtenberg Committee, empaneled at summer's end to study the reasons for the high cost of living in Israel, had cited the need for the defense establishment to economize, Steinitz pointed out. Even the Trajtenberg Committee agreed that the defense establishment needed more than Brodet had suggested - but NIS 1.5 billion to NIS 2 billion a year, not more.

The finance minister, who used to chair the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee himself, complained about the opacity shrouding the defense budget. The Brodet commission had stated there was no reason for the defense budget to be any more confidential than that of any other ministry, Steinitz said. The members of the Knesset committee agreed with Steinitz on that point.

Moreover, the extra budgets recommended by Brodet were to cover all threats, including the nuclearization of the neighborhood and unconventional threats, Steinitz said.

Barak had urged the committee to increase the defense budget, but that would be at the expense of education and health care, Steinitz said. If Israel just went ahead and spent more, breaching its budget, its sovereign credit rating would be lowered, which would increase its financing costs. That would mean there would be even less to spend.

Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak had agreed between them to increase the defense budget by NIS 3 billion this year, beyond the increase approved in parliament. Among other things, the committee he chairs had been asked to approve NIS 620 million for defense industries, only to find the money routed to the Air Force technologies division, he said.