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It's a ceremony with a permanent cyclical character that takes place once a year. Success is guaranteed. On the eve of the decision about the size of the defense budget, the army's top officers roll out the defense expenditure map, assessments and cuts. It's a false presentation. Those who aren't familiar with the data and are only impressed by statements made by senior defense officials are convinced that in the last decade, the defense budget has been cut by billions of shekels. Just a week ago, the ministry's director general, Kobi Torn, emphasized that "one must remember that since 2002, we have lost NIS 17 billion from the defense budget." There is no need to be familiar with the mysteries of the defense budget to wonder about that statement. All it takes is going into the treasury's Web site (www.mof.gov.il) and clicking on the link called "the main points of the budget," where the section that refers to the Defense Ministry can be found. There, on page 58, there is a graph called "development of the defense budget." An examination of the graph, which details the defense budget starting in 1995, shows a strange phenomenon. Not only hasn't the budget been cut in the last decade, but also in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 it actually grew.

But even that graph, which strangely is not being used by MKs in their deliberations, does not tell the entire story. The defense budgets are much higher than those shown on the treasury Web site. Take 2004 as an example. The treasury budget book for 2004, which came out in October 2003, says the defense budget will reach NIS 46.8 billion. Lately, the treasury accountant general published the details of what was actually spent from the budget in that year. It turns out that the defense establishment spent no less than NIS 58.5 billion. In other words, NIS 11.7 billion more than the Knesset approved. That 25 percent lurch did not prevent IDF officers to cry bitterly during the 2005 budget preparations, claiming that defense was at risk and that the defense budget has been ruthlessly cut for years.

And that's how it works every year. There's no connection between the size of the defense budget as approved by the Knesset and what is effectively spent. Every year, the chief of staff goes to the prime minister and convinces him that if at least a billion or two is not added to the defense budget, the state's entire defense will collapse. And the prime ministers, all of them, approve additions that are not brought to the Knesset for approval. Another way to increase the defense budget approved by the Knesset is to use the article called "revenue contingent expenditure," which enables the Defense Ministry to use income from the sale of equipment to foreign armies. In 2004, that article brought in an additional NIS 6.2 billion. In 2005, it was NIS 3.252 billion.

And thus, the state comptroller wrote in his August 13, 2005 report: "The reviews found that, in effect, there are two parallel tracks for setting the defense budget framework. The first deals with the sum presented to the Knesset for its approval, and the second is the sum ultimately determined as the defense budget after the prime minister approves significant additional budgets during the financial year. This management method is essentially damaging to parliamentary oversight and the process of planning the activities of the defense establishment and the rest of the government ministries, whose budgets were retroactively reduced for the sake of adding money to the defense budget." Indeed, a grave accusation - and regrettably, it did not result in any MK springing to the cause. But that is also not the entire picture. In addition to the extra budgets that go to the Defense Ministry every year, one must also add the allocation of NIS 5.5 billion in 2003-2006 for the construction of the separation fence, and the additional NIS 9.1 billion that was allocated for implementation of the disengagement plan from Gaza. The result is that the Israeli defense establishment budget, as a percentage of the gross national product, is higher than the budgets of any western state. The official number is 10 percent, but considering that no small part of the defense budget is not included in the official budget, it seems it must be higher by some percent. In Japan, the defense budget is 1 percent of the GDP, and in western European states, some 2 percent.

It seems that the time has come to find out if the threats to Israel justify such an enormous investment of state resources in defense. After all, Iraq is gone from the list of threats, the Syrian army is weaker than ever, the American army is deployed in the region and blocks threats, Libya is disarming its weapons of mass destruction, and the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan are stable. Attention should be paid to what Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan says. As deputy chief of staff, he was responsible for the army's preparation of the defense budget. He says that "10 percent of the effective basic defense budget should be cut, freeing some NIS 4.5 billion a year for no less critical issues." The government decision to cut NIS 510 million from the defense budget is not only a mockery, but also it won't take much time before the defense establishment gets a lot more back.