When I was drafted into the army, Israel was in a state of war against the armies of Syria and Jordan, maintained large forces and outposts in southern Lebanon and policed and guarded settlements in the face of a hostile Palestinian environment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was just a few years after the first intifada, and it was licking its wounds from the Gulf War, in which it was attacked by Iraqi missiles and dedicated resources to the Iranian theater.
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In the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, where I served as an officer in the army and in the reserves, war plans to reconquer the Sinai Peninsula were still being practiced in case – God forbid – the cold peace with Egypt would fall apart. When I was released from the army, the annual defense budget was 33 billion shekels (around $10 billion). This week, a budget of 58 billion shekels was approved. In the 25 years that have passed, 25 billion shekels were added: a growth of 1 billion shekels a year.
During these years, the Oslo Accords were signed, the Palestinian Authority was established and many security responsibilities were transferred to it; a stable peace was achieved with Jordan, Israel withdrew from Lebanon and prepared to defend the country from the international border. Gush Katif was evacuated and Israel disengaged from Gaza. Peace with Egypt even survived a term of the Muslim Brotherhood. Iraq disintegrated, Syria fell into civil war. In short: Except for the Iranian enemy and its representatives, the threats faded away, enemies weakened or evaporated, but the defense budget just kept on expanding.
Moreover, the IDF is, in practice, an army for peacetime. When a periodic round of fighting breaks out in the Gaza Strip, the army submits the bill to the political leadership at the end. The check for the last operation was 3 billion shekels. And there’s more: The defense budget that was approved is not really 58 billion shekels. If you add the American military aid, which is used to procure weapons systems and other goods manufactured in the United States, then it’s 70 billion shekels.
But it doesn’t end there. My colleague Avi Bar-Eli, an old fighter of windmills from TheMarker, reported this week that just the day after the cabinet approved the defense budget, the IDF submitted another demand: a bridging pension grant, which will cost the country another 15 billion shekels. I’m just really surprised at Bar-Eli, who called the commanders of the military “out of touch” and wondered if they are “living on another planet.”
They aren’t out of touch, they are as connected to reality as possible. They aren’t living on another planet, but in Israel. They know they’re dealing with suckers – that all their demands and whims will be met. That every narrow window that is closed to them will be met with breaking down a wall, or a “door-knocking” action. They know there is no government that will dare to risk damaging its image by “harming national security,” and no political camp or politician will come out to fight a defensive war against them, or at the very least fight a holding action against this raging insanity.
Since the appointment of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, they’ve been telling us that he aspires to have a “lethal army,” includes philosophical messages in his thinking and all he is interested in is improving and strengthening the army – his multi-year Momentum plan. The truth is that first and foremost, Kochavi functions as the chairman of the strongest and most aggressive union in the country. At least from this aspect, he has achieved his goals: It is a lethal cartel.
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Over half of its budget goes for salaries and pensions. People retire in their mid-40s with an average pension package worth 8 million shekels. Every improvement in these conditions is automatically applied to the Shin Bet and Mossad too. The true defense budget, which is never revealed to the public, includes their budgets, too – it has been doubled in a decade and is now nearing 10 billion shekels. Immediately after them come the police and the Prison Service – who rightly demand their own relative upgrades.
Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Benny Gantz gave in to the IDF this time, and accepted the IDF’s demands completely. Yossi Verter wrote that the three reached a deal between themselves pleasantly, over a bottle of red wine. I’m swept up by the romance. In the same breath, they raised the cost of health, public transportation and electricity – so we’re all trying to save on air conditioning.