Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wasting more than NIS 11 billion in the past two years on what he called “military delusions,” referring to projects related to the Iranian nuclear threat.
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“These figures go well beyond the multi-year budgets,” Olmert said on Channel 2’s “Ulpan Shishi” weekend magazine. He said he believes these operations “will never be carried out, because 2012 was the decisive year. Throughout last year they scared the entire world, but in the end nothing was done.” Olmert added that cuts can and must be made to Israel’s defense budget but that no one dares to address the issue in an election period.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who as strategic affairs minister participates in cabinet discussions on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, was highly critical of Olmert’s remarks. He called them “irresponsible” and said Olmert “does not have the full picture of the past four years.”
According to Ya’alon, Israel’s defense spending in the past four years has been aimed at giving the state “offensive and defensive capabilities the likes of which it did not have in the past, some of which have already been put to the test.”
Ya’alon emphasized that the money was not spent in vain. He said the protection it enabled “from threats near and far” made it possible for Israel’s leaders, and Netanyahu above all, “to lead a political and diplomatic war against the Iranian nuclear military threat.” Ya’alon stressed that the government of Israel, under Netanyahu’s leadership, “is serious about its intention to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu said in response to Olmert’s remarks that the former prime minister, “who was convicted of a felony, who carried out the unilateral withdrawal that brought Hamas to power, who failed in conducting the Second Lebanon War and who offered irresponsible concessions to the Palestinians, is the last person who should be preaching to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has strengthened Israel’s security in the face of global unrest, and who conducted the recent operation in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense, responsibly and judiciously.”
In October Haaretz reported that Israel had spent approximately NIS 10 billion on preparations for a possible strike against Iran. Experts estimate that most of the money was spent on material purchases and numerous training exercises, including aerial refueling and prolonged flights.
The IDF also carried out an extensive joint exercise with the United States over the past year, the Austere Challenge 12 (AC-12), whose purpose was to test Israel’s air defense capabilities in an emergency. This exercise alone, which included dealing with simulated rocket and missile fire from Iran and Lebanon, cost NIS 30 million.
The IDF and the Israel Air Force continue to prepare for the possibility of a military strike. Military officials believe the international and diplomatic sanctions have not persuaded Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. These sanctions are expected to escalate in the months leading up to Iran’s presidential election in June.
Israeli military officials note that the Iranian regime is taking measures to defend itself against an Israeli aerial attack. For this reason they are readying alternative options, to be coordinated with Western military forces.
During the interview on Friday, Olmert also backed earlier accusations by Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet security services, regarding allegedly inappropriate conduct by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
He added that he believed Barak was to blame for the Harpaz affair, which centered on a forged document that surfaced when Barak was feuding with then-Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Olmert backed Diskin’s allegations that Netanyahu and Barak casually held sensitive discussions while smoking cigars and consuming alcohol, saying he had heard similar reports.
“Should Diskin have spoken about this? First of all, I’m pleased that he did not discuss any operational matter. However, in issues such as this, it was his duty to bring it up. If someone like Diskin, who has shown great responsibility in all his years in the system, thinks people should know how fateful discussions are conducted, then it was crucial.”
As for the Harpaz affair, which has surfaced again following publication of the state comptroller’s report on the matter last week, Olmert laid responsibility on Barak. Olmert, who was Israel’s prime minister during Ashkenazi’s tenure as IDF chief of staff and Barak’s term as defense minister, said he would not discuss events that took place four to five years ago. However, he did state that “it’s clear that responsibility for the consequences of the affair lies with only one person ? the one in charge of the system.”
“The attempt to conduct a campaign against the chief of staff was undignified,” he said. “The head of the system managed to quarrel with everyone and pit people against each other. The head of the system is Defense Minister Barak. No committee is required to sort this out. He conducted his own personal commission of inquiry and removed himself from the political arena since he knew what the outcome would be.”
Olmert reiterated his support for Shaul Mofaz and said that “Mofaz was elected to head Kadima since the party had been shattered,” referring to the period under Tzipi Livni’s leadership.
He also called for placing the political agenda at the center of the election campaign. “As long as there are no negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel is and will continue to be in a difficult situation,” he said. “We can smell the fumes mentioned by Diskin. We see the situation in the territories. None of the candidates talk about it except Kadima. When things finally erupt, when we are isolated, when the U.S. administration draws its conclusions in the face of Israel’s defiant policies, it will be too late to repair the terrible damage caused to Israel by the present government.