A Bigger Buck Doesn't Mean a Bigger Bang

Even as its security obsession has diminished, the public hasn't quite gotten the idea that more money for defense doesn't necessarily mean more security.

The areas where the social justice protests succeeded and where they failed were this week thrown into sharp relief once again. The war drums being pounded by the prime minister and defense minister in both the Israeli media and the world at large have placed their favorite agenda of national security, national security and once again national security back onto the front-burner. But in contrast to times past when national security issues would immediately push economic and social issues to the margins of public debate, this time it won't work.

The social justice protest has altered the nature of the public debate in Israel at its very core: The public is no longer willing to concentrate solely on national security fears. Day after day there is a growing number of Israelis who understand that the country's real existential threat isn't its external enemies, but the social and economic failures that lie within.

This is the accomplishment of the social justice protest, but alongside it is a conspicuous failure: This week the defense establishment succeeded yet again in hitching its wagon to the threat of war to preserve the full amount of resources it will pilfer from the public - an amount that just keeps rising. Even after the social justice protests, the public's amenability to accepting the principle of massive defense expenditures hasn't substantially changed. Most people haven't yet understood that there is a wide gap between ensuring national security and increasing defense expenditures; between protecting combat soldiers and protecting pensions for desk clerks; between maintaining a technological advantage and indulging in megalomania and pointless projects.

Not only has the public not understood this, even Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, generally an incredibly sharp analyst, has fallen into the defense establishment's trap.

This week, Fischer came to the aid of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, stating that contrary to Finance Ministry assertions, the defense establishment has met the budgetary path set by the Brodet Committee report in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War. The report itself was another transgression in a long list of sins committed by the government, the Knesset and the Israeli public in dealing with the defense establishment.

Eye-popping waste

The Brodet panel, like all finance ministers and prime ministers in the last 20 years, balked at executing an in-depth analysis of the jumble of defense establishment spending. The waste, corruption and megalomania in all parts of the defense establishment are eye-popping. Not just the massive budget liabilities incurred for the payment of soldier's pensions, which have ballooned in a decade from NIS 85 billion to NIS 250 billion, but also the thousands of redundant positions, the extravagant military equipment development projects that have not once met their budget targets, and the salary conditions well beyond anything seen in the rest of the economy.

When the generals, with Barak as their leader, took the government and the Knesset captive this month under the smokescreen of a coming war with Iran, only one voice of restraint could be found in Jerusalem. It was the voice of Meretz Party leader Zahava Gal-On which reminded everyone that this is the same defense establishment that squanders billions of shekels every year.