Mofaz: cuts will impair IDF's ability to provide security
Defense minister says army plans to fire 7,500 career soldiers; U.S. to ask Congress for $2.22 billion in military assistance for Israel.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the budget cut will seriously impair the IDF's ability to provide security against both near-term and long-term threats, including Palestinian terrorism. It will also impair the army's intelligence capabilities and the Air Force's readiness, and will halt training exercises for reservists and Air Force training flights - with the latter to be discontinued as of next month, he said.
The defense establishment plans to fire some 7,500 career soldiers, including two major generals, 12 brigadier generals, 50 colonels and 219 lieutenant colonels, as part of the streamlining necessitated by the proposed cut in the 2004 defense budget, Mofaz said.
There are currently 20 major generals on the Israel Defense Forces' general staff.
Finally, it will require important long-term projects to be canceled - projects in which hundreds of millions of shekels have already been invested - and will deal a mortal blow to the defense industries, due to the cancellation of major orders and the reduction in research and development outlays. "It could be that the security situation in 2004 will be worse [than it is now] because of the fact that we will be unable to provide a security response to threats," he concluded.
Mofaz said that while the Finance Ministry wants to cut the defense budget by NIS 7.1 billion, the absolute maximum that the defense establishment can absorb is a NIS 3 billion cut. He is therefore urging the government to cancel the additional NIS 4 billion cut and increase the deficit by that amount.
The IDF's deputy chief of staff, Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, echoed Mofaz's predictions, saying that the defense establishment's proposed budget is the minimum necessary to provide security for Israel, and if the full budget cut is approved, "we will not be able to provide anything like what we are providing today from a security standpoint."
Committee members said they were greatly worried by these assessments. "I don't understand how the ministers sleep at night," said Likud MK David Levy.
At the end of the meeting, the committee issued a statement expressing its "deep concern" over these assessments and urging the government to rethink the defense cut that it approved.
U.S. to ask Congress to give Israel $2.22 billion in military assistanceThe United States will ask Congress to give Israel $2.22 billion in military assistance in the fiscal year 2005, $60 million more than in 2004, the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday.
The increase is in line with a 1990s agreement which reduces economic assistance to Israel by $120 million a year while adding $60 million a year to the military component of the package, the largest Washington gives to any country.
The statement, issued after talks in Israel last Wednesday and Thursday between senior U.S. and Israeli officials, said the Bush administration was committed to enhancing Israel's security and "maintaining Israel's qualitative edge over any combination of adversaries".
It said the U.S. would continue to seek funding for future U.S. participation in selected joint research and development projects with Israel.
U.S. economic support to Israel stood at $600 million in 2002 but under the agreement, which dates back to the Clinton administration, it will disappear by 2008.
Apart from the annual military and economic assistance, the United States is also guaranteeing international loans by Israel up to an amount of $9 billion over three years.
The $9 billion is liable to deductions equivalent to the Israeli government's spending on settlements in the Palestinian territories but the U.S. has given Israel clearance to start borrowing before deciding how much it will deduct.