Why Probe Just the Israeli Army's Budget? Mossad, Shin Bet Are Big Spenders Too

In the seven years since Netanyahu took office, the budget of the Mossad, Shin Bet and the Atomic Energy Commission has grown by 60 percent.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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A partial view of Israel's Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Negev desert.
A partial view of Israel's Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Negev desert.Credit: AFP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Among the multiple complaints voiced by the IDF against the Locker committee, one was justified – why was only the army investigated? Under a veil of secrecy, our clandestine organizations increase their budgets by 60 percent with no oversight of the billions they spend on “special measures.”

The committee’s mandate was restricted to the IDF and did not cover other security-related bodies such as the General Security Services (Shin Bet), the Mossad and the Atomic Energy Commission. These bodies have expanded significantly over the last few years and urgently require a similar committee to critique their outpouring of public money.

The maladies identified by Locker in the IDF also exist in other security agencies. Locker complained that the IDF budget is opaque. But is the Shin Bet budget any more transparent? Does anyone believe there was ever a serious debate over whether it’s justified to spend billions on “special measures”?

The Mossad and Shin Bet get a pass partly due to their secretive nature and partly due to their size. A 10 percent cut to these agencies’ budgets would give the treasury 700 million shekels ($180 million). A similar cut to the IDF would provide 6 billion shekels ($1.6 billion). This may make cutting the budgets of the smaller agencies less attractive, but it doesn’t grant them an ethical license for their conduct.

In 2008, before Benjamin Netanyahu took over as prime minister, the budget of these agencies was 4.78 billion shekels ($1.25 billion). In 2014 these agencies spent 7.63 billion shekels. Imagine the IDF’s budget growing by 60 percent over seven years. What would the public discourse be then, and how would Knesset members react?

The Shin Bet, Mossad and Atomic Energy Commission bask under an aura of success, under a veil of secrecy. However, from the little that’s known about them, one should ask if a significant reform is now due. The annual Atomic Energy Commission budget, excluding nuclear reactors, stands at 140 million shekels. This is a small operation that fits into two modest buildings in Tel Aviv. How do they spend 140 million shekels? Are all their personnel really needed? The budget for salaries at the reactors is 1.1 billion shekels a year. The average salary there, 26,500 shekels a month, is the highest in the civil service.

While it’s true that irreplaceable scientists work there, they constitute a small minority. Riding on their backs are hundreds of technicians who enjoy outrageous salaries. For example, the nuclear reactor employs 80 drivers, 40 of whom transport employees to work. They enjoy unbelievable salaries, going up to 38,000 shekels a month. Can’t this be slashed? If 14 percent is cut from career officers’ salaries, why can’t the same amount be cut from those of reactor employees?

The Mossad and Shin Bet have another advantage that allows them to present a relatively modest budget: They roll some of their expenses onto the IDF. The much-maligned rehabilitation budget includes not just injured IDF soldiers but all Shin Bet, Mossad, Israel Police and Israel Prison Service personnel who require rehabilitation.

The Shin Bet charges some of its intelligence-gathering costs to the army, since soldiers protect their operatives when entering a village. The army foots the bill. Some of the information the Shin Bet uses comes from the army in the first place. A parallel intelligence-gathering service would cost a fortune, but when this is raised in discussions, the IDF gets all the flak.

While the IDF insists on a young retirement age, people leave the Shin Bet and Mossad at an average age of 56. There are a few combatants in these bodies who obviously can’t continue until the age of 67, but what about the rest? What justification is there for a researcher to retire at our expense at age 56? Can’t a 62-year old do research? Will he sink into dementia and forget his Arabic? Can’t an agent-handler handle agents when he’s 60? Can’t a Persian translator do his job until he’s 67?

Under the veil of secrecy we don’t know what the highest pensions are in these bodies. Why aren’t these figures disclosed? Will this compromise state security? These distortions ought to be addressed.