IDF soldiers on the Syria-Israel border.
IDF soldiers on the Syria-Israel border. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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The battle over the defense budget, which began in the cabinet on Wednesday, kicked off with a clear advantage to the Defense Ministry. Once again, the cabinet set an improper norm by first deciding on the size of the defense budget, and only then apportioning out what remained to the rest of the ministries. Surprisingly, the other ministers acquiesce in this.

Every year, for as long as Israel has existed, the army has intimidated the ministers and the public with various threats in order to increase its budget. Once the threat was Egypt, then came Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Hezbollah and the intifada, and now the Iranian bomb.

Never have defense officials come to the cabinet meeting and declared, “The number of threats has gone down; we need less money next year.” Always, they brought more threats and more demands.

Now, the defense establishment has moved the Iranian threat to the forefront. But it neglects to mention that, for example, the difficult economic situation in Syria and Egypt has prevented them from acquiring new weapons in recent years, whereas Israel has acquired extensive new weaponry.

Nor does the defense establishment tell us that it has received huge additions to its budget in recent years, in line with the Brodet Committee’s recommendations. So from NIS 47 billion in 2006, the defense budget has soared to NIS 60 billion in 2013 − most of which is spent on wages and pensions.

The Defense Ministry claims the army has cut costs to the tune of NIS 9.4 billion over the last five years. The Finance Ministry’s figure − NIS 0.8 billion − seems more credible. But the truth is, it’s difficult to tell, because the defense budget is a black box with which the Defense Ministry can do as it pleases, with no supervision or control by the treasury.

So the Finance Ministry’s demand to slash NIS 3 billion off the defense budget makes sense. There is a lot of surplus fat that can be cut without undermining the army’s strength. And NIS 2.2 billion of this NIS 3 billion will be used to finance free education from the age of three, as per the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendations.

The other ministers must understand that if the defense budget isn’t cut, they will have to bear the brunt of the gigantic NIS 14 billion cut in the 2013 budget on their own. That would deal a mortal blow to education, health and social services.