Defense officials call treasury attempts to wrest budget cuts 'spin'
Defense officials yesterday continued to condemn the treasury's stated intention of cutting the defense budget as part of the effort to change the government's financial priorities.
Treasury officials "are performing a spin on the back of national security to cover up their mistakes," senior army and ministry officials said.
"It's cyclical," a senior General Staff officer said. "Every so often, when someone has a problem, they suddenly start talking about the defense budget."
The Defense Ministry noted there had not yet been any suggestion or demand to cut the NIS 54.5 billion defense budget, and that talk of such cuts was an attempt by the Finance Ministry to distract the public, which is demanding the government make fundamental policy changes.
"The system is always getting more efficient and always cutting back," Udi Shani, director general of the Defense Ministry, told Army Radio yesterday. "The Defense Ministry has no budget surplus."
Another defense official said the treasury was threatening cuts "so that the Israel Defense Forces should look like a blackmailing operation. It's clear to everyone that they aren't going to cut the defense budget during a period when the entire Middle East is in a whirlpool, but at least the treasury doesn't look now like the bad guys."
Defense officials say that the last large cut in the defense budget in 2003 caused a dramatic decrease in combat training and a reduction in the ammunition stores that posed serious difficulties for the IDF during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
After the war, the defense establishment agreed to accept the plan put forward by the Brodet Commission under which there would be a budget framework set for the ensuing decade.
During this period, NIS 100 billion would be added to the defense budget, half from the state budget and half from an increase in U.S. military aid and an efficiency plan to be implemented by the IDF and the Defense Ministry.
In practice, the Defense Ministry says, the defense budget has continued to erode, although the IDF has implemented the efficiency measures to which it had committed. In addition to an NIS 2.7 billion cut in the last biannual budget, defense officials say, the defense establishment has had to absorb the cost of developing the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which cost some NIS 730 million; NIS 600 million of the cost of erecting the border fence between Israel and Egypt; and half of the cost of Operation Cast Lead, estimated at NIS 3.6 billion, which had not been budgeted in advance.
"Look, no one is calling to cut the defense budget now - not the tent protesters and not Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who was on the Brodet Commission that determined the IDF does not have enough resources to meet the challenges it faces," said an IDF officer who deals with budgeting. "It's only the treasury that has started to raise the issue again."
Another dispute between the defense establishment and government ministries is the pace at which the IDF is meant to vacate the bases located on expensive real estate in the central region.
Shani said yesterday that the army has long been ready to move out of the air force base at Sde Dov in north Tel Aviv, the Sirkin base near Petah Tikva and Base 80 near Karkur.
The Defense Ministry accuses the Israel Lands Administration and the Finance Ministry of being unwilling to fund the construction of new bases in the Negev and the cost of moving to them, even though the total cost is far less than the value of the land the army would be vacating.