Defense Budget Debate Goes Into Overtime

Treasury says defense spending will be NIS 50.5 billion in 2013, but Defense Ministry wants NIS 62 billion.

The perennial battle between the Finance and Defense ministries over the defense budget reached the cabinet on Wednesday, but the meeting adjourned without a decision.

The cabinet will have to meet again to decide on defense spending in the 2013 budget.

The special cabinet meeting on the defense budget was held in Tel Aviv - a rare occurrence. Top Israel Defense Forces officers and Defense Ministry officials briefed the ministers, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz presented forecasts on whether the country can meet the demands of the defense establishment.

Steinitz also spoke about the impact of increased defense spending on the budgets of other ministries, the standard of living and welfare.

The treasury said defense spending would be NIS 50.5 billion in 2013, while the Defense Ministry wants NIS 62 billion.

"We are starting a discussion today unlike any that has ever been held, certainly in the forum of the entire cabinet," said Netanyahu. "This is not just a debate over priorities between the defense budget and other ministries, but on the priorities within the defense budget," he added.

The defense budget has grown at an accelerated pace every year since the present government was established, said Steinitz - at the expense of spending in other ministries. But Arab countries have not been building up their arsenals for years and their ability to keep up with an arms race against Israel is shrinking, he added.

The cabinet must decide whether to allow the defense establishment to continue its "irresponsible" budgetary policies or to put an end to it, Steinitz told his fellow ministers. Every additional shekel for defense will come at the expense of education, health, welfare and infrastructure, said the finance minister.

The IDF was supposed to find NIS 10 billion in savings and efficiency measures by 2012, based on the recommendations of the Brodet committee established after the Second Lebanon War, said Steinitz. But instead, the IDF has found only NIS 800 million in savings, he said.

Brig. Gen. Reem Aminoach, the Defense Ministry's budgets director, told the cabinet that the ministry is not asking for additional budgets but only the inflation-adjusted implementation of the Brodet committee recommendations. The Defense Ministry has taken NIS 9.4 billion in efficiency measures over the past five years, said Aminoach.