Senior health system officials are warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that plans to cut the Health Ministry budget constitute "a war against the middle class and a blow to Israeli society's weakest links."

In a letter sent on Sunday to the prime minister, the heads of the Israel Medical Association, medical societies and patients' rights groups asked him to keep the Health Ministry out of the across-the-board cuts in ministry budgets that the treasury has announced. Even the most conservative health economists estimate that the health system has already suffered a NIS 9 billion deficit, the letter said. "These funds are not needed to give Israeli citizens an outstanding health system, but to provide citizens with the basic health care required by the laws of the State of Israel," it read. The signatories claimed that 40 percent of health costs in Israel are covered privately, a much higher percentage than in other countries that have national health insurance - European countries, for example.

"We are there every day in the halls of the health funds and public hospitals, and we see the faces of respectable citizens who pay taxes, who at their most difficult moments encounter an overburdened, tired system and medical staffers drained of strength.

"We feel the pain of patients that are forced to wait hours, days and months for crucial treatments," they said, adding that "cutting the health budget is a blow to Israel's home front preparedness for an emergency." Health system officials say that if the planned cut is not canceled, there would be a halt to all the construction and development projects aimed at upgrading the psychiatric hospitals, many of which have antiquated infrastructure. They also say hospital services would have to be reduced.