IDF Battle Readiness to Suffer if Budget Cut, Senior Officers Warn

Amos Harel
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Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Forces will have trouble maintaining units at their current level of readiness for more than a year under the defense budget cut that the cabinet approved on Sunday, the General Staff has concluded.

The approximately NIS 3 billion cut is meant to finance implementation of the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations on socioeconomic reform; and the IDF is supposed to decide on how to implement the reduction by the end of the month.

IDF soldiers resting atop tanks near Kibbutz Kissufim, just outside the central Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2011.Credit: Reuters

Senior officers told Haaretz last night that given the size of the cut, the government would have to reduce the IDF's order of battle from 2013 onward. While the total defense budget is some NIS 50 billion, including $3 billion in American aid, at least two-thirds of this is locked into wages, pensions, payments to wounded veterans and other items that prior commitments make untouchable.

Prior to Sunday's decision, the IDF's budget for training in 2012 was NIS 2.2 billion. Of this, NIS 800 million was earmarked for various courses - basic training, officer candidate school, pilot school and so forth - and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has ordered that this money not be touched. From the army's standpoint, senior officers explained, this was the "holy of holies."

The remainder of the training budget goes for exercises, for both regular and reserve units.

The IDF Plans and Policy Directorate is now seeking ways to finance the planned schedule of exercises for next year despite the cuts. However, officers say, it's not clear that this will be possible.

"I can't promise that readiness will be maintained," one officer said. "The IDF won't be able to promise that [training] will continue in a proper manner for more than a year, and even this year isn't certain.

"We're examining every possible solution to finance it, including ideas that would sound delusional, like buying civilian [i.e. non-armored] vehicles with the foreign aid budget, which is in dollars, to preserve shekels for more important purposes," he continued. "The Americans haven't yet approved this idea. I hope that in 2012, we won't need to ground flight squadrons for budgetary reasons."

The army has already decided to freeze budgets for developing cyberwarfare capabilities and reinforcing bases against missile and rocket attacks.

Fence to be frozen

Construction of the remainder of the West Bank separation fence will also be frozen, other than in areas where the defense establishment promised the High Court of Justice that the route would be changed in response to petitions by Palestinians.

There would also be no choice but to significantly reduce the purchasing budget for next year, senior officers said. Acquisitions of the Iron Dome system for defense against short-range rockets will be limited to the four batteries for which Israel received a special $205 million grant from the United States. The budgets for developing Magic Wand and Arrow 3 - systems for intercepting medium-range and long-range missiles respectively - will be frozen entirely.

A planned purchase of hundreds of Namer armored personnel carriers will also be put on hold next year. Production of the Merkava Mark 4 tank will be reduced, and purchases of the Trophy active protection system for defense against anti-tank missiles will be frozen. Acquisitions of advanced weaponry for the air and ground forces will also apparently be frozen.

Even before the cabinet made its decision, Gantz had decided to cut the army's wage costs by 5 percent over the next two years. This means eliminating 3,000 positions for career soldiers and/or civilian employees of the IDF. Most of those dismissed will be young officers who signed short-term contracts with the IDF, as these will not require hefty compensation payments.