At a long and stormy meeting of the political-security cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily rejected demands for large increases in military spending this year and next.
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The prime minster exchanged sharp words with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who are seeking another 4.6 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) in extra appropriation in 2014 and unspecified billions more next year.
Netanyahu told them at least twice during the four-hour meeting that they would have to make do with the 57 billion shekels allocated to defense in the 2015 budget approved by the cabinet and now being prepared to go the Knesset. The army is also due to get another 8 billion shekels from defense sales.
Ya’alon insisted that the supplement he is demanding for 2014 was already promised the army to fund the costs of moving installations to the couth of the country, clearing mine fields and covering severance pay for employees of state-owned Israel Military Industries. Ya’alon termed the treasury’s opposition as “cheating” on its commitments.
Defense officials who participated in the meeting asserted that the army would not be able to perform all its functions after next May, unless it received the extra money.
Amir Levy, head of the treasury budget division, provided figures showing that the defense establishment would, in fact, be getting all the funds it sought for 2015. In response Netanyahu said, “I ask that the word ‘cheating’ be removed from the minutes. It seems to be there was nothing more than a misunderstanding.”
Other minsters attacked the defense establishment after the meeting, saying it was unjustifiably re-opening the painful issue of defense spending after the budget had already been approved earlier in the month by the cabinet. Many expressed anger at the army’s declaration that it would not be able to continue operations after next May.
Disputes over how much to increase defense spending preoccupied much of the deliberations over the 2015 budget, with the army asking for extra allocations to cover the costs of Operation Protective Edge over the summer and the need to prepare for growing regional strategic threats.
But with slowing tax-revenue growth and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s vow not to raise taxes, the treasury insisted it couldn’t meet the demands without stripping funds from civilian budgets. In the end, Netanyahu and Lapid agreed on a compromise, giving the defense establishment 8 billion shekels for Protective Edge in 2014 and a 6 billion-shekel supplement in 2015.
“Like every government ministry, you were given a budget, the budget was approved by the government and like everyone else you have to manage with it. You won’t get an additional allocation,” Netanyahu told defense officials.
Gantz then took the meeting by surprise, demanding an additional 1 billion shekels in military spending in 2015, which he said was needed for pay salary increases for career army officers. Ministers angrily responded that the army was asking pay hikes while saying there was no money for training or operations after next May.
Netanyahu closed the meeting by declaring that it was the last time the subject would be brought up. “There will be no other deliberations on the defense budget, not in the government and not in the cabinet. Work with the budget you’ve got.”