Likud Ministers Say Israel's Defense Budget Will Be Cut

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The national defense budget will have to be cut by around NIS 3 billion for 2013 alone, senior Likud cabinet ministers said recently.

The Israel Defense Forces is already taking the anticipated budget cuts into account. Last year the defense establishment managed to thwart planned budget cuts.

The subject of major government spending cuts in general due to a burgeoning deficit is expected to be front and center on the new government's agenda. The 2013 budget has not been approved. It is expected to include about NIS 15 billion in cuts.

In the past two years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wavered over the defense cuts the treasury has recommended. He has held off so far due to the instability in the Arab world as well as increased tension on Israel's borders.

Netanyahu has also had to consider the implications of preparations for a possible Israeli action against Iran's nuclear program. In the past two years the state has spent about NIS 11 billion on such preparations.

Senior cabinet ministers now say defense spending, the single largest item in the state budget, cannot be spared in the overall budget-cutting process. Although Netanyahu has not stated his official position on the matter he is now expected to support defense cuts.

This is likely to have major political implications: The nature and scope of spending cuts are a prominent obstacle in forming the next governing coalition. Bigger defense cuts would permit smaller cuts in other areas that are dear to the hearts of some potential coalition partners. The ultra-Orthodox parties, for example, oppose cutting child allowances.

Senior cabinet members who spoke with Haaretz said the planned defense cuts would require the IDF to alter its priorities. War preparedness must not be affected, the ministers cautioned, adding that it was important to limit the affects on intelligence capabilities, precision aerial and ground weapons systems and on research and development. But some expensive armament projects could be deferred, they said. Other acquisitions could be scaled back and cuts to certain reserve army units could be considered.

Among the measures that will presumably be considered are deferring procurement of a second F-35 squadron for the Israel Air Force and reducing the scope of procurement of a new, advanced armored personnel carrier.

Two of the ministers who are expected to support military spending cuts are potential candidates for defense minister. Moshe Ya'alon, strategic affairs minister in the outgoing government and a former IDF chief of staff, recently said in private conversations that the defense budget was not a sacred cow and that economic exigencies made it necessary to consider such cuts.

Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and former defense minister, said on several occasions last year that substantial cuts could be made in defense spending without harming the IDF's military preparedness.

An IDF hammer along the Gaza border last year.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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