Defense Budget for 2014 Tops 70 Billion Shekels

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IDF soldiers atop a tank outside the central Gaza Strip. July 31, 2014. Credit: Reuters

The defense establishment is expected to receive an additional budget allocation of 8 billion shekels ($2 billion) within the next month, and Knesset sources have said it is possible the figure will be boosted further during the course of December.

On Monday, the Knesset Finance Committee is expected to approve the supplemental transfer of 5.8 billion shekels into the 2014 defense budget, bringing the total defense budget for this year from an initial 57.5 billion shekels to 70.5 billion.

The funding comes despite the recent deadlock in the passage of next year’s state budget, which has now been put on hold altogether with the prospect of a Knesset election in March.

The supplemental defense allocation will include 2.1 billion shekels in U.S. foreign aid assistance to Israel that was initially earmarked for 2013 and will now be transferred to 2014. Finance Committee members were advised that an explanation regarding the transfer would be provided to the Joint Committee for the Defense Budget.

The Defense Ministry will also receive an additional 3.7 billion shekels in funding to cover expenses incurred in last summer’s fighting with Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. That money will come from unspent funds and surpluses from other government ministries, including 530 million shekels initially allocated for interurban highway construction; 350 million shekels from public transportation subsidies; 211 million shekels from day-care center funding; 100 million shekels in civil defense support; 78 million shekels from the budget for assistance that soldiers receive on completion of compulsory service; 60 million shekels initially earmarked for the creation of jobs in outlying areas of the country; and 54 million shekels from the Social Affairs Ministry.

“There is no limit to the chutzpah,” said MK Stav Shaffir (Labor), who is a member of the Knesset Finance Committee, in reaction to the transfer of the additional 3.7 billion shekels. “A moment before Knesset members disperse, the Finance Ministry dares to mercilessly cut at our soft underbelly – public transportation, Holocaust survivors, day-care centers and retirees,” she said.

“The government, which is breaking apart, is exploiting the last days of the Knesset to turn the Finance Committee into a Turkish bazaar and hopes that no one will notice.”

“I’m not happy about these budget transfers, but it involves a supplement for Operation Protective Edge,” said Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi). “Nonetheless, the defense budget is not an only child, and we will insist that social service budgets not be cut.”

The proposed new military spending comes on top of 1.75 billion shekels in supplemental defense spending that the Finance Committee approved about a month ago. A portion of the supplement will come from the Administrator General at the Justice Ministry, the agency that, among other things, administers general bequests directed to the government by individuals in Israel and abroad in their wills.

Additions to the 2014 defense budget have been an ongoing process, and the extent to which the defense establishment should get additional funding has been a matter of some controversy. At the end of November, the Knesset Finance Committee approved 446 million shekels in supplementary funding. At the time, the committee was told it would be earmarked in part for the evacuation of facilities at Israel Military Industries (165 million shekels); the relocation of Israel Defense Forces military encampments (100 million shekels); and increased funding to integrate ultra-Orthodox soldiers into the IDF (40 million shekels).

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