Since early April not a word has been heard from the senior Israel Defense Forces personnel who until then had been complaining bitterly about the deep cuts to the defense budget. Their silence is not surprising, since on April 1 the Knesset Finance Committee decided, after a very short debate, to increase the defense budget by NIS 4.5 billion.
So, three months after treasury folks thought they had finally managed to trim $3.5 billion from the defense budget, the IDF was given back all the resources that had theoretically been taken from it. Today, the defense budget stands at NIS 47.126 billion - 35 billion in shekels, compared to NIS 29.9 billion the Knesset approved in December 2003 - and the rest in foreign currency as part of American aid and from sources in the Israeli economy.
The IDF, like any other army, has developed tools that enable it to portray budgetary distress every year, right before the budget is discussed. One of the most efficient ways is the chief of staff's approval of plans to develop expensive weapons systems, when it is unclear if the army will have the necessary financial resources to complete such programs. After a few years, when, as expected, the resources budgeted by the IDF from the outset dry up, the weapons system is presented as being essential for state security.
Since these are long-term projects that cost a lot of money, the IDF in effect ties up huge chunks of the national budget for many years. The problem worsens when the IDF is managing several large development projects simultaneously - without any comprehensive examination of what solution they will provide to relevant threats, without setting priorities and without examining the effects of the development projects on the multi-year budget.
In addition to all this is the fact that the chief of staff's decisions are sometimes made in contravention of the army's own orders, and while paying no heed to government decisions. One such development project is known as the Main Project. This is a weapons system that costs a billion shekels, and which the chief of staff approved in December 2001 as a "main program" to which the army would allocate hundreds of millions of shekels annually.
The problem, as stated in the state comptroller's report for 2003 regarding the IDF's defective handling of its budget, is: "The resources budget in the multi-year program that the chief of staff approved were partial. The IDF's share was allocated by the chief of staff for five years, while the program was planned for nine years; additional sources of financing for the program were not received as planned, but that risk was not take into account in advance."
The chief of staff indeed approved the program, but it was not submitted as required for the approval of the defense minister. In March 2003 the government decided that "any new program that costs over NIS 700 million (in a multi-year budget) will require the prior approval of a subcommittee of the ministerial committee for national security headed by the prime minister" before being approved by the defense minister.
The comptroller's report also relates to unnecessary investments and a waste of resources, caused by failures in coordination and cooperation between the various branches of the IDF and between them and the general staff. Thus, for example, a project to develop protection for the Merkava tank against anti-tank weaponry began "before the IDF examined all the needs stemming from the threats to the vehicle."
The comptroller also found that "the involvement of the branches of the general staff, the land forces and the armored corps in the aspects of the protection concerning the development and production of the Merkava tank were faulty and lacking."
Even though the confrontation in the territories has been going on for three years already, it turns out that "until 2003 no mechanism was made responsible for the management of the inventory of protective kits (for the tanks). As a result - no minimum inventory level was set to ensure the operation of the routine and emergency security measures, and there was inadequate inventory of many items."
The poor management of the budgets and the lack of "proportions and scales for outlining plans" for development projects sometimes causes the cancelation of projects. The comptroller's report for 2002 mentions one such project that was canceled due to a budget shortfall after some NIS 90 million had already been invested in it.
In the absence of parliamentary supervision and control over the development activities of the IDF, the decision makers in the government and the Knesset are incapable of determining the necessity of simultaneous projects, their true cost and the manner in which the IDF is running them.
Ironically, the chief of staff who did not submit the Main Project for the defense minister's approval is now sitting in the Defense Ministry. Shaul Mofaz is well aware of all the methods the IDF uses to increase its budget, but it is very doubtful he will share this interesting information with his colleagues in the government. The defense budget will continue to grow, and will unfortunately involve a lot of superfluous expenses and waste.
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