Tahrir, Egypt - AP archive
Protesters in Tahrir Square, Egypt, in 2011. Photo by AP
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At times it seems as though the leadership of the defense establishment views what is happening in the country from a different planet. The Chief of Staff and the General Staff are not that interested in the budget for welfare, health or housing. As far as they are concerned, let the ministers worry about finding ways of increasing funding in those areas - as long as they do not touch the defense budget.

As soon as there was talk about the need to shift resources from the defense budget to other ministries, the General Staff was quick to stress that not only is it not possible to cut the defense budget, but it should in fact be augmented by an additional NIS 1 billion immediately. "It is a necessary increase," they noted, "in view of the new challenges and dangers which were created by the regional changes. Cutting the budget will significantly undermine defense." Chief of Staff Benny Gantz explained to the members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "a cut will necessarily lower the ability of the IDF to respond. At a time of such uncertainty and threats we will not compromise on the readiness and preparedness of the army."

The Chief of Staff and his senior staff have nothing to worry about.The ministers and MKs lack the necessary courage to lower the excessive outlay for defense. They are very alarmed when senior officers frighten them and are not willing to take responsibility. But it is at least worthwhile, before the ministers and MKs agree to the demand for an increased defense budget, to seriously delve into its content, and to try to ascertain whether the threats against us have in fact increased.

If they do this, they will discover that contrary to what the army claims, the defense budget has increased every year, and the budget for 2011 is the largest in the history of the country. Moreover, in addition to the official budget, which is approved by the Knesset, the army is given billions in additional funding during each fiscal year. Thus, there is the official defense budget, and the real defense budget, which is substantially larger. So, for example, since the start of 2011, hundreds of millions of shekels have been added to the current budget which stands at NIS 54 billion.

The State Comptroller had written about this as early as 2005: "In essence, there are two parallel paths which determine the framework of the defense budget: The first is the sum that will be presented to the Knesset, and the second is the sum that will be decided in the end - once the Prime Minister approves significant additions to the budget during the fiscal year."

If we add to this the additional money flowing into the defense establishment from the sale of used military equipment to other countries, the real value of the budget this year is close to NIS 65 billion.

If the legislators probe where the money is going, they will discover that two thirds go to manpower, mostly to salaries. And if they were to be genuinely courageous and examine which weapons systems are being developed for the IDF, they will discover that billions of dollars are spent annually on advanced weapons systems whose only real problem is that some of them have no operational use.

The question remains: will the upheavals in the Arab world increase the threats against us? The answer to this is negative. The armies of the countries in the region will not suddenly increase in strength because of the new situation. The chances that Egypt or Syria, whose leaderships are busy desperately trying to survive and stabilize the domestic situation, will embark on a war with Israel have narrowed significantly.

There are no new threats, only new scaremongering. It will be very sad if our elected officials will not use the public protest in order to finally face down the pushy, arrogant and insensitive defense establishment. In 2007, the Brodet Commission, set up to examine the Israeli defense budget, wrote the following about the modus operandi of the defense establishment: "In managing of resources there are blatant cases of lack of transparency, selective and partial information, which at times is used in a manipulative way inside the army, between the army and the [Defense] Ministry, and between the army and external elements and decision makers."