Next year’s proposed defense budget is 6 billion shekels ($1.5 billion) short, two key Knesset committee chairs warned over the weekend, adding that such a shortfall would significantly affect the Israel Defense Forces’ capabilities. Finance Minister Yair Lapid responded that he has no intention of increasing it.
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The committee heads – MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who chairs the joint committee on the defense budget, and MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – issued their warning following a presentation made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last week to a joint session attended by members of both the legislators’ committees.
“As a result of this shortfall,” Levin and Elkin wrote in a joint letter, “we were presented [with evidence] that serious harm would be done to the IDF’s fitness and preparedness, and it was shown that the IDF would have substantial difficulties in putting together a work plan for the coming year.”
In their letter, which was directed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Ya’alon, the pair warned that, under the current circumstances, it will be difficult to hold a vote at the committee level over the defense budget. “We call on all those involved to come to a resolution in the near future, so that the approval of the defense budget is not unnecessarily delayed.”
According to Elkin and Levin’s account, Ya’alon made a presentation in which he asserted that the 6 billion shekel shortfall stems primarily from what the two MKs called “the failure to honor agreements and decisions on the part of the Finance Ministry, and the failure to cover increased expenses, salaries and purchases.”
“I have no intention of increasing the defense budget beyond what was presented to the Knesset,” Finance Minister Lapid responded. “Particularly at this time, we must demonstrate social and economic responsibility for the sake of all Israel’s citizens.”
The proposed defense budget for 2015 already constitutes half of the entire increase in the state budget, Lapid said, amounting to 6 billion shekels more than the base defense budget for this year. “This addition includes funding for all of the Finance Ministry’s commitments as a result of agreements and decisions, as was also presented to the cabinet before it gave its approval to the budget,” he added.
This supplementary funding is in addition to the 7 billion shekels the defense establishment is getting to cover the costs of last summer’s fighting with Hamas and other militants in Gaza, Lapid noted. (Those sums will be provided by the end of this year.)
Following approval by the cabinet, the legislative process includes consideration at the committee level before being presented for final passage through parliament. Knesset sources, however, noted that the prospect of an early Knesset election is growing, in which case the 2015 defense budget might be increased by a government formed after such an election.
Addressing the possibility of an election, at a program in Tel Aviv on Saturday where he was interviewed by journalist Ben Caspit, Lapid said, “I am not afraid of elections, but that’s not what the State of Israel needs now.” Taking Netanyahu to task, Lapid added, “With regard to dramatic things, everything is stalled and the prime minister is standing on the sidelines: the government budget, Israel’s international ties, the personal security of the citizens, the housing issue, and other matters.”
Referring to the leadership of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Lapid said, “Five strong Likud central committee members control the country and influence the politicians in the party The budget is stalled because those same central committee members are sitting on the prime minister and convincing him not to accept the budget, and I don’t understand why the prime minister cooperates in this.”
Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, meanwhile, called on Netanyahu and Lapid to make public the details of the agreement between them on the 2015 defense budget, and asked specifically whether it included a plan to provide the defense establishment with funds during the course of next year – beyond that contained in the budget currently pending before the Knesset. Gal-On directed an inquiry on the matter to the Finance Ministry’s budget division director, Amir Levy, who replied, “We are unaware of agreements providing for a supplement to the defense budget.”