It’s Time to Slash Israel's Military Budget

All of Barak’s talk about social sensitivity is only deception. He is demanding an addition to his budget, when he knows very well that without a deep cut in defense, it will be impossible to respond to even a small part of the tent protest.

I almost stopped breathing when I heard the words of MK Shaul Mofaz ‏(Kadima‏), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: “We have to open the defense budget already today, and to cut back. Don’t let them threaten us, because I won’t panic.”
What courage, what power!

And Mofaz continued: “Channeling budgets to social welfare is a strategic move that is as important as any ambitious and pretentious project of the defense establishment. We have to spread out and streamline the project. We have to transfer the Israel Defense Forces to the outlying areas,” he said, striking out mercilessly at the sacred defense cow.

But the moment I recovered and resumed breathing as usual, I recalled that Mofaz was once chief of staff and then defense minister too. During those not so distant days, he used to speak in the cabinet about “the poverty and the gaps that are destroying society,” but demand additional funds for the IDF in the very same breath. “You’re experts at harming the weak,” he would say to the officials at the Finance Ministry, and immediately thereafter demand another NIS 1.5 billion for the army, arguing that if it were not paid immediately, the IDF would be unable to defend the Jewish people. How frightening!

At the time, Mofaz would invite a large group of senior officers, including the chief of staff, to the cabinet sessions, and they would describe the surrounding threats to the ministers, with the aid of sophisticated PowerPoint presentations showing frightening red arrows directed straight into the heart of the country. The stunned ministers would quake with fear, and the prime minister would ponder the next commission of inquiry − and they would all approve the additional funds.

And it made no difference that Israel’s strategic situation had actually improved at the time, with the eastern front against it having collapsed when Iraq fell, and America a presence in the heart of the Arab world.

This is precisely the tactic of incumbent Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On the one hand, he talks about the importance of the social protest and about the fact that his Atzmaut Party “was formed with the precise purpose of dealing with social injustices.” Interesting; we actually thought it was formed in order to provide jobs for several party hacks. And then, in the very same breath, he goes on to say, “We have to remember that we aren’t living in Switzerland. Look what’s happening around us in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain and Iran.” In other words, the scare tactics continue.

But the revolutions in the Arab world, in Syria for example, may actually be reducing the dangers from there because the regime’s efforts to survive are preventing it from finding time for war at this point? And maybe the economic crisis in Egypt is weakening it?

The defense budget has increased greatly in recent years. It jumped from NIS 46 billion in 2006 to NIS 54 billion this year, and will go up to NIS 55.5 billion in 2012. This is the result of the Brodet Commission to examine the defense budget, which was formed after the failure in the Second Lebanon War. The army claimed at the time that the reason for the failure was budget cuts. However, the Winograd Committee, which investigated that war, ruled that the failure was totally unrelated to the size of the defense budget, but was instead the result of unprofessional leadership and an untrained army.

But what do the facts matter? The army applied pressure and the Brodet Commission was formed. Its only role was to increase the defense budget, and it carried it out faithfully − so much so that that the government decided in 2007 to increase the army’s budget by a whopping NIS 70 billion, to be spread out over 10 years, with NIS 46 billion taken from the state budget and NIS 24 billion to come from additional American aid.

The government decided too that the army would implement a comprehensive streamlining plan in order to strengthen it, for a total of NIS 30 billion. The army was supposed to submit its streamlining plan a long time ago, but it simply is not doing so. All it is doing is receiving the additional funds and constantly demanding more.

Kobi Haber, who was the treasury’s budget director during those years, said that the Brodet Commission would only represent the minimum demands of the defense establishment, and that is exactly what is happening. Only recently did the IDF present the National Security Council with a plan to increase the defense budget by another NIS 10 in 2013, in order to prepare for all the surrounding dangers.

In other words, all Barak’s talk about social sensitivity is only deception. He is demanding an addition to his budget, when he knows very well that without a deep cut in defense, it will be impossible to respond to even a small part of the tent protest.