"We do not have the luxury of cutting the defense budget," Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned this week. "We cannot permit ourselves to do this as a country and as a nation." Barak's statement was echoed by senior officers, who warned of the grave consequences of a cutback in the defense budget "at a time when the threats to the country are increasing and security needs are growing."
Just as it does every year, this year, too, the regular ritual is taking place: Senior members of the defense establishment are protesting against the cuts in the army's budget and threatening ministers and Knesset members, so that nobody will dare to dream of deciding to reduce the defense budget.
However, the discussion of the defense budget is based entirely on deception. The data presented to policy-makers by the army are at best "manipulative," to quote the Brodet Commission. What is amazing about this process is that the data are readily available (in the Finance Ministry's budget books), and the Israel Defense Forces' unacceptable methods of dealing with the policy-makers have been publicly exposed (in both state comptrollers' reports and the Brodet Commission report). Nevertheless, nobody is publicly exposing the IDF's shame or demanding an accounting from it.
After the Second Lebanon War, as part of their attempt to justify their failure, senior army officers claimed that it stemmed at least partially from the major cutbacks in the defense budget in the years preceding the war. A slide prepared by the IDF and shown to cabinet ministers stated that "in the years 2003-2007, as compared to 2002, [there was] a cumulative decrease totaling NIS 18.4 billion." Truly a cruel cut. The problem is that it never existed. Not only was not a single shekel cut from the IDF budget during the years in question, but it increased substantially in each of those years (with the exception of 2005, when the budget was similar in size to that of 2002). These figures have been published in the treasury's budget books.
In order to illustrate the IDF's use of manipulation and "selective information," the Brodet Commission wrote that "according to the military's language, the overall defense budget is about NIS 35 billion in 2007, whereas according to the Budget Law, the budget totals about NIS 51.6 billion. In other words, there is a gap of about NIS 17 billion between the two 'languages' ... This gap really makes one wonder."
There has also been a manipulative use of data in the discussion taking place today. Whereas Ehud Barak and senior army officers speak of a painful and dangerous cutback, in fact, the treasury plans to reduce only the expected increase in the defense budget. It has not proposed reducing the defense budget itself in comparison to 2008; expenditure on defense is slated to grow by NIS 3.1 billion. Most of the increase stems from the Brodet Commission's recommendations, which would increase the defense budget by about NIS 90 billion over the coming decade. The treasury's plan is to make do with increasing the defense budget by NIS 2 billion less than originally planned, with a promise that the army will receive this addition in 2010. In other words, not a reduction but an increase.
About three years ago, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan stated that it is possible, and necessary, to cut about 10 percent from the defense budget, and that this would not cause any harm to the country's defense. Dayan, it should be noted, served as deputy chief of staff, who is the officer responsible for formulating the army's budget. The debate now taking place between the treasury and the defense establishment revolves around a gap that represents only about 2 to 3 percent of a defense budget that is some NIS 10 billion higher than the one of which Uzi Dayan was speaking.
Dayan also pointed out certain IDF activities and acquisitions that could be eliminated, thus saving a great deal of money. "We could have managed with the three models of modern tanks that we developed and not purchased the Merkava 4 at a cost of almost NIS 20 billion," he stated. "We could have made do with [existing] attack helicopters and not invested about another NIS 3 billion in Sharaf helicopters."
One of his important recommendations was to "examine every project in the work plans with a critical eye." And in fact, in the absence of any external supervision and monitoring of its development and acquisition plans, the army is developing advanced combat systems, technology-intensive and amazingly expensive, whose main problem is that some of them are superfluous (the state comptroller pointed this out in veiled language). Thus, for example, nobody is asking the IDF to explain why, in addition to three systems designed to protect against missiles and rockets - the Arrow, the Patriot and Iron Dome - in whose development and purchase many billions are being invested, it is necessary to develop another system, David's Slingshot, whose planned interception capabilities add nothing to those of the three systems the IDF has already decided to purchase.
As it does every year, this time, too, the army will win. Ministers and MKs will not dare lay a hand on the defense budget. Nor, even worse, will they demand that the IDF explain and report what exactly it does with the tens of billions that it receives each year.
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