The defense establishment and its boss, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, act as though they represent some organization not part of the Israeli economy. The economic crisis doesn't interest them and they continue to demand bigger budgets; this year's will be the largest ever.
In the West, 1 to 3 percent of gross domestic product is allocated to defense. In Israel this number is more than 10 percent. In 2009, Olmert's government allotted NIS 48.8 billion to defense, but shortly afterward, Barak managed to get another NIS 1.3 billion from the prime minister. Now the defense establishment claims Barak received NIS 3 billion in guarantees, and another NIS 2.45 billion will cover Operation Cast Lead. In all, Israel will spend no less than NIS 55.55 billion on defense, or NIS 66.55 billion including the NIS 11 billion in U.S. aid. But the army wants more. A request for another NIS 3 billion to NIS 4 billion is in the pipeline.
How does the army justify its budget demands? It says it needs to counter growing threats: Iran is continuing its nuclear program, Hezbollah is getting stronger and Hamas is smuggling in weapons. It's a sham. Our security situation was incomparably worse a decade ago when Iraq was still a threat and Libya was developing weapons of mass destruction. The threat on the eastern front is gone and demands no resources, while withdrawing from Lebanon and evacuating settlements has freed up considerable resources. Still, the defense budget has grown every year over the past decade. The Israel Defense Forces' biggest achievement has been to spread disinformation (as the Brodet Committee discovered) that big cutbacks were made in the years before the Second Lebanon War. This is a badge of shame for the media and politicians who did not check the data.
Certainly, an Iranian threat exists and is worrying, but a possible attack on Iran is not dependent on new purchases and should not be tied to budget increases. We must hope that Israel's policy will rely on deterrence rather than offense, requiring a lot less money.
But money comes easy for the IDF. It does not try to save and does not take into account what's going on in the market. It is developing advanced weapons systems that cost billions of dollars, though they address no practical need or their efficiency is in doubt, according to the State Comptroller's Office. The comptroller's latest report on the billions of shekels spent on rocket defense was much more damning: "The deficiencies may cause us to equip ourselves with anti-rocket systems that do not respond to operational needs and raise concerns of wasting funds." How did the IDF and defense minister respond? They ignored and even ridiculed the claims.
The IDF is too big. Its structure is wrong. Its non-productive side is frighteningly large and conditions for military service are too harsh. But policy makers in the Knesset and government would rather not inspect the IDF. Instead, they surrender to the army's repeated scare tactics and give in to its demands for larger budgets. Too bad, because the current crisis would be an excellent opportunity to take on the army and carry out the required budget cut. Unfortunately, this won't happen. Barak will continue to get what he asks for: more money for "his" defense establishment.
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