Israel's Secret Services Budget Surged 26% Under Netanyahu

Figures from the state budget published by the Finance Ministry show that the Mossad and Shin Bet security service spent more than NIS 6 billion in 2012; the unclassified data do not detail the allocation of the funds between the two intelligence services or how the money was used.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

The budgets of the intelligence services, the Mossad and Shin Bet security service grew by dozens of percentage points during the term of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Figures from the state budget published by the Finance Ministry on the government data bases site www.data.gov.il exposed the hike in funding.

The budgets of the Mossad and Shin Bet in 2012 were NIS 5.91 billion. Another NIS 269 million in spending were for “expenses conditioned on revenues,” and some NIS 300 million more came from budgetary surpluses from previous years. In addition, the services received another NIS 1.75 billion last year in “permission to commit funds” at the expense of future years’ budgets. In practice, the two services actually spent a total of NIS 6.042 billion in 2012, reports the treasury.

The original budget for the Mossad and Shin Bet in 2011 was NIS 5.86 billion, and another NIS 266 million in spending that depended on revenues, and NIS 1.5 billion of funds based on future years’ budgets. All told, the two services spent NIS 5.63 billion in 2011.

In 2008, in comparison, the last year Ehud Olmert served as prime minister, the budget for the secret services was NIS 4.98 billion, with another NIS 204 billion in conditional funds. Actual spending reached NIS 4.78 billion in 2008. These figures reflect a 26 percent increase in the annual budgets for the Mossad and Shin Bet over the four years of Netanyahu’s term, based on actual spending figures. The biggest increases came in 2010 and 2011, 10 percent and 15.6 percent respectively. This trend of large increases was halted in the 2012 budget.

By law, the budgets of the Shin Bet and Mossad are included under the framework of the general reserves in the state budget. They are described in the budgetary section as “an objective within the framework of the Prime Minister’s Office.” The money is transferred from the budgetary reserves to its recipients with the approval of the subcommittee on the secret services of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The members of the subcommittee receive the details of the spending.

The treasury’s reports on the changes in the state budget show that at the beginning of each year the Finance Ministry asks the Knesset Finance Committee to transfer a large sum from the General Reserves budget item ‏(number 47‏) to an item labeled “Defense Ministry miscellaneous” ‏(15010290‏). The explanation given in the notes varies. In 2010, for example, the money was intended for “services.” In other years the explanations for the budgetary transfers included “miscellaneous R.C.” or “various defense,” “Shin Bet surpluses” and Services surpluses.” In the reports for the years 2011 and 2012 it only says that the amounts are intended for “changes in the defense budget.”

The unclassified data do not detail the allocation of the funds between the Mossad and Shin Bet, nor do they show how the money was used, such as for salaries or equipment purchases.

The annual reports from the Finance Ministry’s accountant general on the implementation of the state budget bundle the expenses of the Mossad and Shin Bet within the defense budget − even though these services operate under the authority and supervision of the prime minister and not the defense minister. This arrangement results in a fictitious budget increase for defense of a few billion shekels, compared to the budget presented to the Knesset.

The budget reports the Defense Ministry releases under the Freedom of Information Law do not include these amounts in the figures for the defense budget. The gap between the treasury’s spending reports and the Defense Ministry’s comes from placing the burden for the Shin Bet and Mossad’s spending on the defense budget − and which distorts the political and public debate over the size of defense spending.

The Israel Government Portal on the Internet includes government data bases “as part of the policy of open government, and is based on advancing transparency and presenting reliable and authorized government information for public use,” states the treasury. The transparency and openness implemented since 2005 are expressed in much broader detail than in the past on the budgetary sections and the changes made in them.

Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen (left) and Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo in Jerusalem, May 2011.Credit: Emil Salman

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