The sigh of relief from Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry, could be heard echoing from the Kirya in Tel Aviv all the way to the treasury building in Jerusalem, the seat of Accountant-General Nir Gilad.
Gilad was a painful thorn in Yaron's side - so much so that Yaron recently filed a complaint against Gilad with the Civil Service Commission, a step almost unheard of among its senior ranks.
Yaron was duly overjoyed on hearing of Gilad's pending resignation from the Finance Ministry.
Gilad is very familiar with the defense establishment - from the time he served as deputy director of budgets for defense issues, and later as deputy financial director-general at Israel Aircraft Industries - which prompted him to appoint a treasury-sponsored accountant at the Defense Ministry. After all, who knows better than Gilad of the trickery the Defense Ministry performs with its budget.
But Yaron has refused to comply with the external appointment, despite an explicit government decision to do so.
Now the battle over the defense budget will be waged by "the big boys" - Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. But those who think that the issues are new ones are mistaken. The battle for control of the defense budget is as old as the state itself.
Way back in late 1953, the treasury got word that the Defense Ministry had entered into a contract for imports that required a payment of $500,000 within two days. At a time when every dollar spent was budgeted for a year in advance, and when the state did not even have enough money to import wheat, panic broke out at the Finance Ministry.
The treasury had no alternative: Within a day, it came up with the $500,000 and sent a senior official with the check to Tel Aviv. The official got into a taxi - a rare event in those days - and traveled to the holiest of holies, the Defense Ministry at the Kirya.
Sitting in a plush room, with his feet up on his desk, the ministry's director-general greeted the treasury official and said: "Oh, you're the young guy from the treasury. Have you brought the check already? Give it to me and go in peace."
And who was this director-general? None other than Shimon Peres.
This power struggle between the treasury and Defense Ministry is reminiscent of the one that erupted just a few days ago between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the Government Companies Authority.
Netanyahu wanted the authority back in his hands so that he could reward some of his close associates in the Likud with appointments to boards and various and strange positions in state-owned companies, primarily in personnel. But Sharon wanted the authority too, and for the very same reasons.
In the end, Netanyahu got the authority, but the two men agreed to divide the appointments equally between them.
Now Sharon wants to appoint Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin as the next chairman of Pelephone, following the appointment as Bezeq chairperson of another Likud activist, Miriam (Miki) Mazar, who was a resounding success in her position as chairperson of the Association of Dan Cities for Sewerage and the Environment - see the sewage-into-the-sea affair.
Therefore, if the public is wondering why not one single significant privatization has been carried out in recent years, the political appointments are the reason. After all, how else would our ministers amass support in the party's central committee?
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