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When you listen to both sides of the argument, your hair actually stands on end. It sounds like something taken straight from a banana republic. The Defense Ministry claims that the state budget is a castle in the sky and NIS 5.5 billion "missing" from the defense budget will seriously harm our security. The Finance Ministry claims that the Defense Ministry is griping about July's difficult cabinet decision that cut NIS 3 billion from the 2003 defense budget, which together with the across-the-board nominal spending freeze, amounts to NIS 3.82 billion, and the IDF simply won't have that.

When a reporter tries to resolve the contradiction between the two versions and calls his sources back, it becomes apparent that there is an amazing story behind the scenes. According to the Defense Ministry, the cabinet agreed to bridge the gap using a NIS 5 billion "loan from a friendly country." But wait, doesn't that mean increasing the budget deficit by another whole percentage point? "Precisely," replies the Defense Ministry. "The real 2003 budget deficit is 4 percent and not the treasury's 3 percent".

At this point the reporter tries to discover the truth and discovers that the idea of this "loan" came from Defense Ministry director general Amos Yaron, who told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about this friendly country willing to participate in financing a few Israel Defense Forces development plans to the tune of NIS 5 billion.

Sharon liked the stunt since it was an easy way to close the hole in the budget. Finance Minister Silvan Shalom also agreed.

But a few days later it turned out that the infamous country wasn't willing to finance the deal, so there was no NIS 5 billion and there was a big problem. This being the case, the Defense Ministry decided, for the first time in its history, to publish its own budget book, circumventing both the cabinet and the treasury. The book was prepared by the ministry's budgets director Brigadier General Muli Ben Zvi. But the very fact of its unilateral submission was unforgivable. It is a challenge to Israeli democracy, but apparently anything goes in an army that has a country.

To solve the NIS 5 billion problem, the Defense Ministry is now looking for outside sources. It does not suggest slowing the development pace of certain projects or revoking the recent pay hikes given to the IDF's civilian employees (NIS 20 million). It doesn't even mention that the army hasn't even decreased the number of academic degree-seekers or the number of early retirees. It does suggest a "security levy" on the public, cutting 5 percent from public sector salaries, and increasing the budget deficit by another half a percent.

So we have a suggestion too. Appoint the chief of staff as prime minister, abolish the treasury and call MKs up for reserve duty - and then it will be abundantly clear what kind of a regime we have.