Yuval Steinitz - Tomer Appelbaum
Yuval Steinitz. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz accused IDF top brass of attempting to incite the public against Israel's elected government on Sunday, in the latest shot in an ongoing dispute over the size of the army's budget.

"In a democratic country, an army does not incite the public against the government," Steinitz said at the opening of the government's weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning. "What is going on here is an unprecedented campaign of threats and scaremongering. The government has decided, so the army must implement," he added.

In response to Steinitz's comments, the Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it was "sorry for the serious things the finance minister uttered this morning."

"It is the responsibility of the government, including that of the finance minister, to listen to the professional estimate provided by the defense establishment and decide upon a priority that would realize that responsibility," the statement added, saying that, "as we have said in the past, a cut defense funds at this time represents a direct injury of [Israel's] security."

The statement added that it was "absurd to think that it's possible to cut the budget while avoiding the cancelation of missions, the downsizing of projects, and injury to training and skill."

"While the defense establishment is a professional system, even it cannot work magic and produces something out of nothing," the defense ministry said.

The finance minister's comments came in response to a series of media interviews granted over the weekend by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, in which he expressed veiled criticism of the Israeli government's decision not to further expand the defense establishment's annual budget.

In an interview with Channel 2 which aired on Friday, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said he expected the government and the prime minister to "look at things from a broad perspective, to understand what's at stake and to know how to allocate the funds according to the required [sense of] responsibility."

Gantz added that his complaint was not directed against the Finance Ministry, which he said "looks at life through a financial prism," adding "that's their job."

Regarding recent comments made by Finance Minister Steinitz concerning the need to cut the defense budget, Gantz said, "I will not comment on his words; he will choose his path and I my ethics, and I'm comfortable with where I am."

Despite a recent decision by the government not to accept the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendation to cut NIS 3 billion from the defense budget, the IDF has insisted in recent weeks that it is facing an unprecedented budget crisis, and has threatened to cancel key development projects.

The measures under consideration by the army reportedly included a possible halt to the development of Rafael's Iron Dome production line, as well as the David's Sling long-range missile defense system.

Last week, IDF officials indicated that the Israel Air Force could go as far as halting all acquisition of new anti-missile systems as well as grounding IDF warplanes in the coming fiscal year as a result of insufficient funds.

A top military official told Haaretz last week that the planned measures could severely impair the IDF's war readiness, adding that the "government is aware of the gravity of situation, but until now our demand to reduce budget discrepancies has not been answered."

In a similarly heated exchange in January, Gantz interrupted a Finance Ministry official while he was briefing the cabinet, saying, "That's absolute nonsense."

The comment set off a biting exchange, in which Steinitz exhorted Gantz to "bear in mind that you are wearing a uniform," to which Gantz retorted, "I am rather more aware of that than you are. Keep respect for the Israel Defense Forces in mind."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not comment on the exchange, nor did other ministers.

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