It started out small. The Israel Defense Forces announced that due to a budget cut it was closing down Gadna, a short military training program for high school students. When that’s didn’t help, the floodgates were opened.
Within less than a week the IDF made clear that due to budgetary problems it wouldn’t buy additional Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries. It would also discontinue the manufacture of the Merkava tank and the Namer armored personnel carrier, cut a billion shekels from the ground forces, cancel dozens of infantry-brigade training exercises, severely restrict reservists’ training, and freeze purchases of the Magic Wand and Arrow 3 anti-missile systems. Meanwhile, military satellites were almost certain to suffer.
In addition, the chief of staff announced that he was reducing the army’s operations by 10 percent. The IDF top brass apparently doesn’t understand that even when you want to scare the decision makers, it’s better not to exaggerate and turn the scare tactics into a farce.
No less serious is the fact that the media and the politicians are adopting the IDF narrative that the defense budget has been cruelly cut. The truth is just the opposite, of course. The 2012 defense budget, which was approved by the Knesset, is about NIS 1.5 billion larger than the 2011 budget and about 4 billion larger the 2010 budget. Incidentally, the government recently decided to add NIS 3 billion to the 2012 budget.
A few years ago, during a routine argument between the Finance Ministry and the IDF over the size of the defense budget, I showed up at the office of the chief of staff’s financial adviser with a graph on the defense budget published by the treasury. The graph clearly showed how the defense budget was growing annually.
Are the figures in this chart acceptable to you in the IDF, I asked the adviser. Yes, of course, he replied. In that case, why do you say they’re cutting the budget when the figures show that it’s constantly growing? You don’t understand, the adviser scolded me, we demand a certain sum for the defense budget every year, and when they don’t approve what we requested, that’s a budget cut as far as we’re concerned. That happens every year, and this time too. The IDF requests an add-on of about NIS 4 billion, and if it doesn’t receive it, that’s a cruel budget cut.
In our sad situation, the scare tactics always work and every year the prime minister increases the defense budget by huge sums. In 2011 about NIS 5 billion was added in this way. The State Comptroller’s Office wrote about that seven years ago: “In effect, there have been two parallel routes for deciding on the defense budget. The first refers to the sum to be presented in the Knesset ... and the second is the sum decided on ... after the prime minister approves a hefty budget addition during the fiscal year.”
The key question, of course, is how big the defense budget should be. How much money should we really invest to face our defense challenges? Only six months ago Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, said that “we can cut NIS 4 billion annually from the defense budget without affecting the IDF’s preparedness.”
There are two possibilities. Either Mofaz is talking nonsense, and if so he should quickly be removed as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Or there’s something to what he says. After all, he should understand a thing or two about defense. If the second possibility is correct, we should examine how and where to cut the budget. That won’t happen, of course. The army will scare us and the politicians will increase its budget once again.
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