More Than Half of Israel's Security Cabinet Wants Say in Defense Budget

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon opposes any discussions of Locker committee's recommendations, but over half of security cabinet disagree.

Reuterse

More than half of the security cabinet supports a proposal to debate the Locker committee report on the defense budget before it and the full cabinet discuss approving the entire state budget.

On Friday it was reported that the Habayit Hayehudi ministers in the security cabinet, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, were demanding from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a discussion of the report’s recommendations, which call for wide-ranging changes in the defense budget and the structure of the Israel Defense Forces, before debating the budget. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon opposes any discussions of the recommendations by the security cabinet.

Others supporting a security cabinet debate are Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and ministers Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Aryeh Dery (Shas), along with those ministers who serve as observers, Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Yoav Galant (Kulanu). Other than Dery, all these ministers have expressed support for some aspects of the report, rejecting the scathing criticism of the report that has come from senior defense officials, including Ya’alon, Defense Ministry director-general Dan Harel and Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Elkin has asked National Security Council chairman Yossi Cohen to initiate a security cabinet debate of the report. Bennett, who in interviews has been enthusiastic about the report’s proposals, plans to continue to pressure Netanyahu to hold a security cabinet debate and make the defense establishment respond to whatever criticism results.

Last Wednesday Ya’alon refused to attend a meeting Netanyahu had called to discuss the report because committee chairman Maj. Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker had also been invited. Netanyahu himself has yet to address the report publicly, even though it was released last Tuesday.

Most of the former generals who have been interviewed in the media about the report have vehemently opposed its conclusions, among them former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, former Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron, and former Israel Air Force commander Ido Nehushtan. In recent days the defense establishment has been urging former senior officers to slam the report in the media. Several retired generals were summoned to a briefing Ya’alon gave last Thursday in which he explained his objections to the Locker recommendations.

One ex-general taking an opposite approach is the former coordinator of government activity in the territories Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Or, who for 12 years was responsible for auditing the defense establishment for the State Comptroller’s Office. Over the weekend Or wrote that from his experience, “There is, unfortunately, a significant weakness in the ability to oversee and control the defense establishment in general and the defense budget in particular.

“The NSC does not implement what is called for by law regarding evaluation of the defense budget and doesn’t do staff work in preparation for the budget discussions,” he continued. “The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, whose goal is to oversee and control the government ministries and approve budgetary clauses, has extremely limited ability in this realm. Without sufficient tools to thoroughly examine alternatives to the defense budget, the security cabinet, the government and the Knesset suffer from a prolonged disadvantage. This requires an in-depth independent inquiry, and it’s good that this has taken place.

“The offensive campaign by the IDF and Defense Ministry against the Locker Committee has no place and biases the debate,” Or concluded. “It’s good and necessary that an orderly debate takes place in the government and the Knesset.”