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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to rule on Israel's defense budget for 2011-2012 after a morning meeting between Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak went nowhere yesterday.

The cabinet will hold its final meeting on the budget for the next two years tomorrow.

Steinitz demands that the defense budget be cut by NIS 1.4 billion in each of the following two years; he argues that in preceding years, the defense establishment has received more money than it was supposed to under the Brodet Committee's recommendations from 2007.

Barak argues that the defense establishment doesn't want more than its due, and that it has adhered to David Brodet's recommendations religiously.

Every year defense and treasury officials square off over the budget, but the clash this year seems nastier than ever.

Floating numbers

How much is the defense budget, anyway? That seems to be an open question.

In 2008 it was NIS 52.7 billion, says the Knesset's Research and Information Center. But it was supposed to be only NIS 49.4 billion according to the Brodet recommendations, and the army says it is adhering to those recommendations.

The Research and Information Center and the recommendations agree on NIS 50.2 billion in 2009, a real increase of 3.5% from the year before. But for 2010, the numbers part ways again.

In 2010, says the Finance Ministry, the defense budget was NIS 53.2 billion, while the Brodet recommendations place it at NIS 50.8 billion - and the Research Center says it was NIS 55 billion.

Army: Our budget has been shrinking

The treasury argues that the defense establishment is deliberately opaque about its budget and spending. Not so, says the army, and adds as an aside that if anything, the treasury is the opaque one. Moreover, says defense, its budget has been contracting for decades.

"According to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Finance Ministry, the defense budget has been trending downward for decades relative to GDP and relative to the national budget too," the Defense Ministry said yesterday.

The ministry says that in 1986, the defense budget was 24.1% of the national budget. That dropped to 16% in 2000 and 15.1% in 2010.

Relative to gross domestic product, says the Defense Ministry, the defense budget fell from 16.2% of GDP in 1986 to 6.9% of GDP in 2000, to 6% of GDP in 2010.

The Defense Ministry also claims that the average wage in the army dropped from NIS 12,200 a month in 2003 to NIS 12,100 a month in 2008, while the average wage at other ministries increased by 25%.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said that last year, the finance and defense ministries signed an agreement defining a new supervisory mechanism that answers all the treasury's claims.

The Finance Ministry stated that all its demands pursuant to Brodet had been met and it wouldn't have any additional claims until 2017, said the IDF Spokesman's Office. The Finance Ministry's outstanding issues regarding career soldiers are complex and the discussions will continue in the relevant forums but should not be conducted through the press on the eve of the budget vote, the IDF spokesman summed up.