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The Finance Ministry is demanding that the army raise the retirement age of career combat officers from 42 to 46. In a letter to Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz added that the ministry also wants the retirement age of noncombat soldiers hiked from 44 to 57.

Treasury officials were furious after the defense establishment torpedoed its proposal to cut the defense budget for 2009-2010 by NIS 3 billion. The ministry had included a bill to raise the retirement age in the Economic Arrangements Law for 2009-2010, but removed it at the insistence of the military.

Last month, Ashkenazi pledged to give the Finance Ministry a proposal for cost-cutting measures in the military, including changes to the retirement age, within four months. But the treasury has decided not to wait for this proposal and to start taking steps to force the army to institute efficiency measures immediately.

Steinitz also demanded in the letter that the army outsource a long list of nonmilitary jobs to the private sector in order to cut costs. These include positions for economists, engineers, lawyers and technicians.

"The IDF won't argue with the Finance Ministry through the press," the army spokesman stated yesterday, adding that in recent years, the army has been gradually raising the retirement age. He also stated that the army obeys government decisions.

A top army officer said Steinitz's letter was regrettable, because it sours relations between the military and the ministry. In any case the army constantly monitors its outlay on manpower, the spokesman said, and also examines the issue of the retirement age.

The retirement age for men in the private sector is 67. For women the age is 64.