Israeli Army Demands Billions to Boost Defense Budget

Sources say army is unmoved by state's dire economic situation, refuses to back down from request for additional 3 billion shekels ■ Military sidesteps treasury, goes straight to Netanyahu

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IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Aviv Kochavi at an Air Force base, December 2020.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Aviv Kochavi at an Air Force base, December 2020. Credit: Chaim Hornstein

The Israel Defense Forces are demanding an extra three billion shekels ($920 million) for military procurement in the 2021 defense budget, after having already received their requested 2.5 billion shekels for this year.

The demand has outraged many in the government, given the grim economic situation and the expected cuts in other ministries’ budgets.

After it became clear that the government wasn’t going to approve the 2021 budget before it dissolved, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and his economic adviser, Brig. Gen. Ariela Lazarovich, asked Finance Minister Yisrael Katz to give the army an extra 4.2 billion shekels. Treasury officials objected, demanding to know why the army needed the money.

The IDF then went directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who approved an addition of 2.5 billion shekels for the army’s “internal needs.”

To this day, neither the treasury, the cabinet nor the Knesset has been informed of the reasons that the army required this money. They also don’t know why it needed the extra three billion shekels it demanded for the 2020 defense budget. Now, with support from Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the IDF is demanding another three billion shekels for “ongoing security needs.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, December 2020. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky / AP

The demand has roused concern among other government ministries, which understand that their budgets will have to be cut to compensate. Proposed means of achieving the necessary savings include delaying infrastructure projects, postponing a planned increase in teaching hours at schools and reducing subsidies for public transportation.

According to sources involved in the talks between the IDF and the government, the army is exploiting the fact that both Netanyahu and Gantz would rather avoid a confrontation with the IDF. They also accused the IDF of being impervious to the difficult economic situation, and pointed out its refusal to compromise.

“It’s inconceivable that we’ll be saddled with cuts, the army will get money without offering any explanations and the treasury won’t say a word,” a senior official in one ministry said.

Several ministers have also slammed the army’s demands off the record, but refused to criticize it publicly.

On top of the combined 5.5 billion shekels that the army has requested for 2021, it has received an extra 260 million shekels for the Home Front Command’s Alon Task Force, which does coronavirus contact tracing, and an extra six billion shekels for other forms of civilian assistance. But sources involved in Alon questioned the necessity of some of its expenditures and said the army seems to be using some of the funds to build up the Home Front Command without dipping into the regular defense budget.

Questions have also been raised about the center’s decision to hire outside consultants at a cost of tens of millions of shekels. One source said that most of these consultants are former IDF officers whose contribution to the battle against the virus is “dubious.”

Israeli soldiers at a Home Front Command center for identifying coronavirus patients, Ramle, September 29, 2020.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

As Haaretz reported last month, government sources and doctors involved in Alon’s work accused the IDF of using the coronavirus funding it was given for purposes that were neither related to the virus nor essential. These same sources said that nothing has changed since then with regard to the army’s attitude toward public funds.

One government source accused the army of completely ignoring the country's economic situation, adding that this approach “comes from the chief of staff’s office.”

For instance, the IDF recently sought to spend 20 million shekels to replace its orchestra’s instruments, outraging many of the people who saw this request.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that “discussions are currently being held to finalize the level of the defense budget” for 2021, given that absent any other decision, funding would continue at the previous year’s level until a new budget is approved.

“During these discussions, the Defense Ministry and the IDF have insisted on the need to provide for ongoing security needs in line with the level of expenditure in 2020,” it added.

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