To Craft Defense Budget, Netanyahu to Compare Panel’s Report With Military’s Plan

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Senior Likud members Yuval Steinitz, left, Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzachi Hanegbi meeting with Likud legislators at the Knesset, July 27, 2015. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In his first public comments on the Locker Committee’s proposals for reforming the military and defense budget, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday to study both the Locker report and the army’s multiyear plan and bring the issue to the cabinet.

While the document formally published last Tuesday has some similarities to the Israel Defense Forces’ multiyear Gideon plan, the two diverge on several key issues.

“Yohanan Locker did very important work,” Netanyahu told a meeting of Likud Knesset members, referring to his former military secretary who heads the committee. “He worked with excellent people and studied how to deal with the IDF’s problems. At the same time, the IDF and the defense minister did very important work — a plan of their own that we know we need to adopt.”

“I’ll study the Locker report and the IDF’s multiyear plan to see which plan is optimal,” he added. “We’ll bring these issues to the cabinet for a decision.”

Netanyahu also addressed the need to approve the 2015-16 budget. “For there to be entrepreneurship and business here, we need to convey to the world that we know how to run an economy,” he said. “Therefore, we will pass a budget. Anyone who thought we wouldn’t pass one is liable to be disappointed.”

Turning to the controversy over the regulatory agreement he seeks to sign with the companies that control Israel’s natural gas reserves, Netanyahu declared, “We won’t let populism bury the gas in the ground.” Critics say the deal preserves the companies’ monopoly and will end up with Israelis paying too much for the gas.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, ministry director general Dan Harel, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior IDF officers have all heaped criticism on the Locker report. Last Wednesday, Ya’alon even refused to attend a meeting Netanyahu called on the document because Locker had also been invited.

The report proposes an annual defense budget of 59 billion shekels ($16 billion) for the next five years. It also proposes sweeping organizational changes in the IDF.

Its 53 recommendations include linking the defense budget to the consumer price index and creating two separate budgets within the defense budget — one for training and one for research and development — that could not be cut even if changes were made to the overall defense budget.

Sources have told Haaretz that at least half the members of the diplomatic-security cabinet supported holding a discussion on the Locker report before the government began discussing the state budget as a whole, and the defense budget in particular.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party and an enthusiastic backer of the Locker report, has led the drive for such a discussion. But Ya’alon vehemently opposes any discussion of the report.

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