Bibi's to Blame

While Olmert and Peretz would like to see fingers pointed at Netanyahu as the man responsible for the blunders in the war, let us not be deceived.

It is slowly becoming clear who is really to blame for the failure. It's not Dan Halutz, who promised to finish Hezbollah in two weeks only using the air force. It's also not Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, who did not check the army's plans, but arrogantly decided within an hour to embark on an all-out war with unattainable aims.

The guilty party is one man, a major criminal: former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is what those in Olmert's office and senior IDF officers say. Netanyahu is the one who pressed for cuts in the army's budget, and the fact is that the army did not provide suitable equipment to reservists, nor food and water to the soldiers in Lebanon. R&D programs were also stopped. Therefore, it is the slasher who's at fault, not the leaders or generals.

The innocent bystander may actually think that someone really did manage to make cuts to the defense budget. But have no fear: while there had been attempts at cuts, the Israel Defense Forces fought them off with great success. Between 1995-2000, the defense budget retained its real value. With the outbreak of the intifada, the army received a large increase in its budget for two years, but then the economic crisis occurred, and it was necessary to cut back in expenses (also in child allowances, income supplements, education and welfare). Indeed, between 2003 and 2005 (the years Netanyahu served as finance minister), the defense budget underwent some cuts, but even after these reductions, it is now greater - at NIS 46 billion - than that of 2000. If that is the case, then where are the cuts?

And where was Ehud Olmert when the budget was authorized by the government? Why then, in 2003, when he was deputy prime minister, did he not say there should be no cuts in the defense budget and that instead, reductions should be made in health care, education, professional training programs, and incentives for setting up factories and increasing the work force? One needs a great deal of audacity to come out now and blame it all on the budget. The IDF is a large military force, fat and cumbersome. Lack of money is the least of its problems.

Throughout its history, the army has refused to differentiate between the front and rear. All agree that the fighting force in the army - 20 percent of its overall work force - is entitled to excellent conditions and benefits. But why is an economist at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv entitled to the same extraordinary privileges? And why are the salaries at the Defense Ministry much higher than wages in the other ministries? And why are ministry employees entitled to an expensive annual leave that has no parallel in any other ministry? Why are IDF personnel in the rear entitled to lower health tax and social security charges? And why does the IDF subsidize the construction of housing complexes for non-frontline career staff, at our expense? Why is a soldier at headquarters in Tel Aviv who is injured in a traffic accident entitled to the same disabled veteran benefits as a soldier injured in fighting?

Why does the Merkava tank project, that takes up NIS 800 million a year, continue to operate along a very expensive assembly like since it is considered to be an IDF production line, even though it incurs costs that do not exist in the private sector? And what about the numerous commands, superfluous manpower, projects oozing megalomania, the "white" or "company" cars and jeeps? And why are career staff serving in posts in the rear entitled to retire at 41 - an absurdity that is costing us billions.

In other words, there is money, lots of it. The only question is: where is it being directed? Therefore, if the reservists were short on binoculars and modern helmets, this is not a budgetary problem but a matter of priorities. And if the army could not provide food and water to the soldiers in Lebanon, this is also not a budgetary problem, but one of management and logistics.

But Netanyahu and the budget are a good excuse for a war that ended in embarrassing defeat, where the gap between the aims and gains is huge. We wanted a weak and beaten Hezbollah that is unable to continue firing missiles against Israel, but we got an organization that hung on and whose command structure did not collapse. An organization that, even on the last day of the war, was capable of launching 250 rockets - 14 of them against Haifa. Israel wanted a demilitarized zone between the border and the Litani River, but got an agreement full of holes that does not disarm Hezbollah, does not prevent its rearmament, and leaves it capable of launching missiles. Instead of a multinational force in southern Lebanon, Israel will get, if it is lucky, UNIFIL, an army of "pensioners," that will not do Israel's work for it. They will not prevent the movement of Hezbollah fighters to the border, and the Lebanese army will not prevent the renewed transfer of weapons for Hezbollah from Syria.

What is most dangerous is the static situation the army is finding itself in, staying in the hostile environment of southern Lebanon, exposed to Hezbollah ambushes that already has let it be known that it views the IDF as an occupying force that must be expelled. One must add to this the intense hatred for Israel, aroused among the Lebanese as a result of the tremendous damage caused to its infrastructure, bridges, cities and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Most painful, for us and them, has been the cost in blood.

Therefore, before the Prime Minister's Office continues with its spin about the budget, it is appropriate to check the size of the budget that Hassan Nasrallah had at his disposal: was it 10 percent of the IDF budget, 1 percent, or perhaps merely 0.1 percent?