The social protest has put the defense budget on the agenda, because in Israel's economic reality, it is impossible to increase the amount of funds devoted to social goals and housing without cutting other expenditure. And since defense is the largest item in the state budget (accounting for about 20 percent of the total ), it is the leading candidate for cuts.
The defense budget also deserves cutting, because in recent years it has expanded greatly - from NIS 46 billion in 2006 to NIS 54 billion this year and NIS 55.5 billion in 2012. That is thanks to the Brodet Committee, established following the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. At the time, the army claimed that its failure stemmed from budget cuts. But the Winograd Committee, which investigated the war, found that the failure was unconnected to the size of the defense budget; rather, it stemmed from unprofessional command and untrained soldiers.
Nevertheless, the Brodet Committee decided to increase the army's budget to NIS 70 billion over the course of 10 years. It also tasked the Israel Defense Forces with carrying out an efficiency program that would cut NIS 30 billion from other areas over this period, so that more money could be devoted to bolstering the army's strength. The problem is that the army never implemented its side of the bargain and has not streamlined as required.
Now, the Finance Ministry is demanding that the army finally streamline by cutting its manpower, the salaries and benefits of career officers, its various command headquarters and its operations, and also reexamine whether all the expensive development projects it has invested in are really needed. The treasury seeks to cut NIS 1-3 billion from the defense budget. It is also complaining about the lack of transparency in the defense establishment, which makes it impossible for the treasury's budget division to do its job.
The Trajtenberg Committee, appointed by the government to formulate responses to the protesters' demands, also intends to address the defense budget. It is clear to the panel's members that if you want more funds, you have to forfeit some guns. It is also clear that this will not merely entail trimming the ministry's fat, but will also require a different risk management policy.
Therefore, Defense Minister Ehud Barak must stop speaking in two voices. On the one hand, Barak talks about the importance of the social protest and says his Atzmaut party "was established especially to deal with social injustices." But on the other, he is constantly frightening the public with warnings about various security risks. It's clear that it will be impossible to "deal with social injustices" unless the Defense Ministry and the IDF agree to cut their budget.
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