The defense establishment has intensified its struggle to increase its budget and is threatening to stop Israel Defense Forces drills.
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These intimidation tactics are meant to remind the public of the mobilization, preparation and performance fiascoes in the Second Lebanon War. We warned you, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz are saying to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the public, should disaster strike, take your complaints to the Finance Ministry and its tight-fisted hand.
Ya’alon and Gantz want to remove from the agenda the debate on the career army’s service conditions and pensions, which are siphoning up an increasing portion of the defense budget. The defense minister and chief of staff are conducting themselves like unions bosses Alon Hassan of the Ashdod Port and Miko Tzarfati of the Israel Electric Corporation. They know that the defense establishment’s insatiable appetite for additional funds is intended mainly to improve the economic situation of the career soldiers and the defense industries and intelligence community’s pensioners.
Amir Levy, director of the Finance Ministry’s budget division, is right in saying that Ya’alon and Gantz’s struggle is not against the treasury but against the Israeli public, which will have to forego social services to pay the swelling pensions at the Defense Ministry’s compound in Tel Aviv. These offices already enjoy economic security that non-uniformed people cannot even dream of, unless they work at the Ashdod Port or Israel Electric Corporation.
Ya’alon and Gantz’s obtuseness to what is going on outside their offices, which are overcrowded with aides, secretaries and drivers, is not surprising. Back in 1953, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion warned of the army leaders’ blindness to civilian society’s needs and demanded they practice efficiency and thrift.
Nothing has changed. The chief of staff’s seeming readiness to discuss the budgetary pension — but only if other ministries’ budgets are also slashed — only illustrates his thuggish conduct toward the general public.
The IDF under Ya’alon and Gantz’s leadership would rather take care of the career soldiers’ budgetary pension than train soldiers. For operations like capturing the weapons boat in the Red Sea in March, the IDF hands the treasury a separate bill, as if the operation was not part of its duty. Such a fat, rusty army will fail in the hour of truth.
The silence of the top brass, which is toeing the line drawn by its chiefs, is also worrying.
Netanyahu must break his habit of granting the defense establishment’s demands and insist it streamline itself. Instead of announcing the appointment of a committee “to examine the budget,” which has yet to convene, he must make it clear to Ya’alon that it is his responsibility. Netanyahu must condition the next chief of staff’s appointment on his agreement to make a far-reaching change in the defense expenses. If Netanyahu gives in once again to threats from the Defense Ministry and IDF chiefs, he will be responsible for the future failures.