Barak Slams Push to Cut Defense Budget for 2009

Defense Minister says cuts irresponsible in light of threat posed by Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday criticized moves to cut the defense budget for 2009, saying that "sound, responsible leadership can not support cuts in the defense budgets in light of the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas."

Barak also condemned Finance Minister Roni Bar-On statement's that in order to balance the budget, cuts must be made either to social welfare programs or defense.

"The attempt to present a dilemma between security and welfare is deceiving," Barak said, adding that "both welfare and education are part of the security of the citizens of Israel, and the civilian leadership must find a way to invest in both simultaneously."

Barak's statements came after Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Head Tzachi Hanegbi and the heads of the body's seven subcommittees sent a letter to the Knesset on Friday demanding that the government avoid making cuts to the Israel Defense Force's 2009 budget, calling the current budget "a red line that cannot be crossed."

In their letter, the seven subcommittee heads said The Second Lebanon War "painfully demonstrates to all of us the price of neglecting the army and the cuts in defense spending made in the years before the war. The drop in the level of IDF inventory, reductions in training hours for active and reserve duty troops, and the damage caused to the battle-readiness of combat units, all came directly as a result of defense spending cuts."

Over a year ago, the Knesset approved the 2009 budget, and shortly thereafter, the Finance Ministry recommended a NIS 2 billion cut in defense spending in order to accommodate the new budget.

The seven subcommittees of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are considered the most secretive bodies of the Knesset, and are privy to many of the security establishment's most sensitive and classified information.

In 2007, a public commission, appointed by the cabinet to examine defense spending and the functioning of the IDF and Defense Ministry, presented a 190-page report, that recommended raising defense spending to NIS 46 billion a year, with a fixed annual increase in spending for a decade.

The committee, chaired by former Finance Ministry director general David Brodet, included a number of economists and former senior officials in the defense establishment.

The cuts recommended by the Finance Ministry, if made, would represent a departure from the Brodet committee's recommendations.