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When the Second Lebanon War began, Israel was flush with cash after five years of booming economic growth. We now enter Operation Cast Lead with depleted coffers and there isn't even a budget in place for 2009. Nor is anybody expecting a boom in 2010, which means that when the defense leaders come to the Finance Ministry, beret in hand, asking for more money, they won't get any.

One of the first priorities of the new government, whoever heads it, will be to pass a budget for 2009. With the year not a week old, we can already say the deficit looks like a monster, 5% of GDP or NIS 35 billion, if not more. That's because tax revenues are falling as economic growth slows, and because of mounting defense spending. Even before Operation Cast Lead, it was clear that defense would need NIS 2 billion more in 2009, and it's asking for double that.

America isn't about to lavish Israel with aid, as it did when Israel vacated the Sinai Desert. The more defense swallows up, the less will be left for other ministries, for the orphans and widows, for education and for the disabled. Shas' dream of increasing social security stipends will have to wait for the government after the next government.