Amid Row Over IDF Funding, Military to Redirect Budget to Weapons Development

Wave of social protests pushes Finance Ministry into clash with Defense Ministry over military spending.

The wave of social protests sweeping Israel pushed the treasury into a clash with the military over spending this week. The Finance Ministry demanded cuts to career army staffing levels. The Defense Ministry on Tuesday published an unusually harsh response to these demands. The statement reads "Treasury officials have proved that they don't understand economics, society or defense. Their hysteria has caused them to try to deflect public discourse from the real issues at hand."

The statement adds that the IDF five-year plan, now in the approval process, already includes reducing the number of career army personnel by 5 percent.

An Israeli weapons exhibition.
Moti Kimche

The cut, which will be implemented under Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's direction, is expected to be across the board, but will be particularly felt in departments farther from the front lines.

Gantz decided on the cut before the wave of social protests began in early July. It is not clear whether the cut will be implemented as planned in the beginning of 2012.

The goal is not to reduce defense spending, but to use the savings for other purposes, particularly developing and acquiring new weapons, as the 2007 Brodet Commission on defense spending recommended.

Against the backdrop of the social protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have discussed starting the five-year plan in 2013.

Netanyahu and Barak, who up to a month ago claimed that upheaval in the Arab world required increasing the defense budget, have reversed their position in the wake of the protest.

Now, they are discussing keeping the defense budget steady for another year, and advancing critical matters (field unit training, acquisition of missile and rocket interception systems) while postponing other projects.

The downsizing would take place gradually - 1 or 2 percent a year - through dismissals and early retirements.

Gantz has accepted Netanyahu and Barak's edict over the objections of senior officers.

IAF pilots will begin training on the plane in the United States the year before the planes arrive.

At this point, the IDF is not changing its acquisitions plans for ground forces equipment, which include the new armored personnel carrier mounted on a Merkava tank and the newest Merkava tank, the Merkava Mark IV.

The General Staff and the defense minister agree that IDF training should not be compromised, particularly in light of the Second Lebanon War, during which some troops, particularly reserve units, performed poorly.

Training had halted in the six years before the Second Lebanon War broke out, because the army was investing most of its resources in addressing Palestinian terror in the second intifada and had to cut its training budget.

The IDF ground forces now have a budget of NIS 4.2 billion a year. About 45 percent of that is spent on salaries.

The training budget for the ground forces is approximately NIS 1.2 billion a year.