The poor pay twice
It is no secret that the matter of the budget troubles the Israel Defense Forces' leadership a great deal. Prior to the outbreak of war, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz made a major effort to convince politicians and the media alike that the planned cuts must be called off.
Four days after the outbreak of war, a senior officer paid a visit to a newspaper office to explain the reasons for the war and its aims to the paper's staff. When he entered the conference room, he saw the economic section of the newspaper on the table and commented: "Did you see the story about the cancelation of the cuts in the defense budget?"
It is no secret that the matter of the budget troubles the Israel Defense Forces' leadership a great deal. Prior to the outbreak of war, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz made a major effort to convince politicians and the media alike that the planned cuts must be called off, that the benefits given to career military personnel must not be reduced and that the Finance Ministry's demand for greater transparency in the defense budget must be rejected.
But no quick conclusions should be drawn from these facts. Obviously, no one at the General Staff had the budget in mind when they recommended going to war. But one of the harmful and tragic results of the war is the absolute change in Israel's order of priorities - from one focused on a socioeconomic agenda to one focused on a military-diplomatic agenda.
Up to the moment before the war broke out, there had been talk of transferring billions in the 2007 budget from defense to social issues: the war on poverty, reducing socioeconomic gaps, encouraging employment, subsidizing day care, expanding support for the elderly and increasing the education budget. But now, who will dare to raise these issues, at a time when the army requires additional billions - for the war effort, to replenish stocks, to purchase equipment, for research and development and in order to maintain the new security zone? And if some Knesset member does insist on rasing these social welfare issues, what is the chance that the cabinet and Knesset will support him?
The attacks in the north also primarily hurt the weaker socioeconomic groups: the poor, the elderly, those without family support and the recently unemployed. They are the first to be hurt by the missiles. They are the first to lose their place of employment. And they are unable to pay for a stay at a hotel in Tel Aviv or Eilat. They are also not employed by the Civil Service, the Israel Electric Corporation, or the Oil Refineries, where salaries are guaranteed. They are forced to stay in town, and even go to work - because if they do not, their refrigerator will be empty. Thus, even as we watch, socioeconomic gaps are widening.
This raises a difficult question: Did anyone high up, when he made the lightning decision to go to war, also consider these results? Did anyone involve the finance minister and the minister of industry, trade and employment in the decision? Did anyone present an estimate of the socioeconomic costs of the war? We know that this did not happen. It was not even a consideration.
A country cannot deal with all issues at once. It cannot finance a war, accede to the defense establishment's new budgetary demands, pay the salaries of workers in the north, compensate factories and employers for their lost production and profits, and also carry out important changes in social welfare policy in the 2007 budget. It is simply impossible.
Anyone who tries to deal with everything simultaneously will bust the budget and cause a sharp increase in the deficit. The result will be grave. We will immediately lose the confidence of investors, Israel's credit rating will drop, and the economy, which is already experiencing a slowdown, will be caught in a severe financial crisis and recession.
The economy experienced a similar crisis in 2002, when the dollar threatened to cross the five-shekel threshold, interest rates went sky high, growth was negative and unemployment was enormous. No one wants to see that again. It turns out that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz did not only decide on a war; they also decided to alter the order of priorities of the State of Israel. In fact, they told the public, without telling anyone, that defense was elevated to the top of their order of priorities, and all the lovely plans for issues such as social welfare, health and education would have to wait for a different time. This is also the cost of war.