Israeli Military Seeks Massive Top-up of 2014 Defense Budget

While other ministries have been forced to slash spending, Defense Ministry wants billions more to enable IDF 'to fulfill its most basic missions.'

The cabinet on Wednesday will discuss the defense establishment's request for significant budget increases in 2014, with a senior officer saying the Israel Defense Forces needed more funding to carry out its basic missions.

In May, the government set next year’s defense budget at NIS 51 billion (on top of a further $3 billion in U.S. aid).

Of this, NIS 22 billion will finance the IDF with the rest covering expenses including Defense Ministry expenses, pensions and the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. According to the IDF, this sum would be NIS 7.5 billion less that the NIS 29.5 billion allotted to the military in 2013.

A General Staff officer told Haaretz that most ministers agreed in May that the IDF would have trouble carrying out huge budget cuts in so little time, and that toward the end of the year the cabinet would consider providing extra funds.

“We seriously cut our expenses. We will fire 4,500 career soldiers within two years, and we shut down squadrons, armored divisions and other units,” the General Staff officer said. “Next year training will be significantly hampered, and we’ll hardly call up reserve soldiers for operational duty in the territories or on the borders.”

According to the officer,” the meeting is about the IDF’s capability to fulfill its most basic missions – and to do so it needs additional budgets. These aren’t fairy tales or spin. We’ve done our best to be more efficient, but now it’s time for the ministers to consider the needs that remain.”

The IDF, which has been relatively silent in recent months about the budget, now seems to be lobbying the cabinet, but Finance Minister Yair Lapid is set to push back. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party promoted a social agenda during January’s Knesset election campaign, in part at the expense of the Defense Ministry.

On Tuesday, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said Israeli soldiers “serve, not work; they don’t make a living, they serve – without a union, without tenure, without the right to establish a union. That has been our modus operandi ever since the state was established, and that’s how we’ll continue to function.”

Speaking at an event honoring Bedouin soldiers, Gantz pledged that he “won’t agree to have the basic rights of career soldiers trampled on. Impairing your rights is akin to impairing Israel’s security.”

The IDF’s position is supported by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who will take part in Wednesday’s meeting, to be presided over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ya’alon said Sunday at the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee that the Finance Ministry tried to renegotiate career soldiers’ pensions and cut their wages at the most recent budget talks.

The last agreement on career soldiers’ salaries and benefits, signed in August 2010, determined that a rise in the retirement age would be accompanied by higher wages. According to Kobi Amsalem, responsible for wages and labor agreements at the Finance Ministry, wage increases were being awarded such that “even in the private sector you wouldn’t find such high salaries for people without an academic degree.”

The committee chairman, MK Haim Katz (Likud), argued with the Finance Ministry representatives after claiming that ministry officials were deceiving him and the IDF by not implementing the agreement. Amsalem said implementing the agreement depended on the government, which had yet to decide.

“I consider myself responsible for representing career soldiers,” Ya’alon said. “One of the Finance Ministry’s offers is ‘let’s manage the salaries and pensions.’ Can I abandon career soldiers’ fate to the [Finance Minstry’s] hands?”

Ya’alon said the only issue the Finance Ministry wanted to discuss was further personnel cuts. According to the IDF’s plans, some 5,500 IDF jobs would be cut, before the rehiring of 1,000 career soldiers, mostly by the air force and intelligence.

“This is an essential matter,” the head of the Personnel Directorate, Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivai, told the committee.

AP
ELiyahu Hershkowitz