Years ago a senior political figure told me about the Israel Defense Forces method of obtaining budget increases. A delegation of 20 senior officers enters a Cabinet meeting, equipped with state-of-the-art laptops. They present frightening intelligence assessments and a display with red arrows aimed straight at the heart of the country: from Iraq, from Iran, from Syria, from Lebanon and from the Palestinian Authority. The ministers seize up with fear and tremble, the prime minister sighs and gives in. After all, life is more important than quality of life.
The major performance before the Cabinet has an earlier stage: preparing public opinion. Several journalists participate in this, publishing planted news items that make huge headlines. This year there were news items about Iran having finished rearming Hezbollah, about the anticipated war this summer (Why summer? Maybe the cool of autumn is preferable?), and the high point, of course, the Iranian atom bomb, which within three years will be aimed directly at the heart of Tel Aviv.
This year the General Staff developed an additional, and much more effective, method. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that although he can manage with a smaller budget, it means a decline in the array of IDF forces, undermining the training program and a decline in strength. But if the prime minister is willing to take the risk, let him decide and approve. Not the chief of staff. To put it more clearly: When the next Winograd Committee is established, the chief of staff will have an alibi. The prime minister won't. And in the face of this Judgment Day weapon, Olmert surrendered.
The IDF has even succeeded in disseminating the myth that the problem in the last war was solely a budgetary one. That is a lie that is picking up speed, and the facts and statistics are not succeeding in refuting it. During the second half of the 1990?s, the defense budget was about NIS 40 billion. It increased during the intifada years until it reached a record NIS 52 billion in 2003. With the waning of the intifada, the budget began to decrease, and this year stood about NIS 49 billion, much larger than it was a decade ago. This week it was decided that even that is insufficient, and the defense budget will once again reach a record: NIS 52 billion in 2007. In that case, how is it even possible to talk about cutbacks without blushing?
But Olmert is not built to withstand the army's pressure on him. The highest-ranking civilian, who is entangled in an investigative committee, did not want to open another front against the IDF. And Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, who should have guarded the coffers closely, failed at his job. All this happened even though the Cabinet is already transferring NIS 8.2 billion to the IDF (over three years) to renew the stores and equipment eroded by the war, while in the background is the Brodet Committee, which is examining the defense budget and is supposed to publish its conclusions in April. But Olmert did not agree to wait even until April, and Hirchson gave in. As usual.
If we were talking about proper administration, Olmert should have conditioned the budget increases on comprehensive efficiency programs in the IDF. For example, there is the retirement age of non-combatant soldiers, which at present is 45, and this costs the IDF NIS 4 billion annually. Why shouldn't an economist working in the Kirya defense complex in Tel Aviv work until the age of 60? Why should he work for only 24 years, but be entitled to 37 years of pension? It should be almost the other way around: 39 years of work and 22 years of pension.
And why does the Defense Ministry employ many workers who are largely superfluous because of duplication with the army, in areas such as acquisitions and construction? What about the delegations abroad? Why do we need a huge delegation (200 people) in New York? Don't they have Internet and fax machines? And why do we need military attaches in France and Thailand, who don't do a thing? And what about the inflated headquarters, the large number of extraneous senior officers and the exaggerated number of standing army personnel who serve on the home front?
It means only that Dan Meridor was right. He was appointed by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz two and a half years ago to examine the national security concept. His recommendation, which he presented to Olmert: not to increase the defense budget for the next 10 years.
But who will listen to Meridor when the IDF manages to scare the prime minister so easily?
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