Suddenly, the Bottom Fell Out

Netanyahu must demand that Ya’alon and Gantz present him with a restructured defense budget.

Netanyahu (R) and armed forces chief Major-General Benny Gantz during the opening ceremony of the 19
Netanyahu (R) and armed forces chief Major-General Benny Gantz during the opening ceremony of the 19th Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem. July 18, 2013. Reuters

Upon taking office in 1991, the new Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Ehud Barak, coined the slogan, “Whatever doesn’t shoot will be cut.” His current heirs in the military leadership, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, are proposing the opposite approach: “Whatever shoots and trains will be cut.”

In their uncompromising battle to increase the defense budget, the two have been raising the bar for threats and intimidation on a daily basis. On Monday, Gantz announced that training for army reservists would be halted “due to the resource challenge.” But this didn’t suffice to open the monetary taps, so later in the week, the message was made more extreme. This time, the army announced it would halt training for Israel Air Force reservists, who are in an important element of the air force’s combat readiness.

The defense establishment is trying to convince the public that “the bottom has suddenly fallen out” − the budget has been fully spent by mid-year, and there’s no choice but to take drastic measures. But this is a false picture. MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) has exposed the lies Ya’alon and Gantz are telling: The General Staff informed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee back in February that the IDF wasn’t planning any exercises after the month of May and promised not to seek extra funding. It seems that at IDF headquarters, the “resource crisis” was planned well in advance; they were simply waiting for the right moment.

Ya’alon and Gantz have halted training, but they haven’t cut unnecessary activities like those of their court photographer or the defense minister’s spokesman, who have been busy disseminating pictures to the media of Ya’alon on tours of the army or overseas. For that, there is money.

Instead of contending with Bar-Lev’s revelation, they have accused him of “leaking” and punished him by barring him from classified meetings. The new chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), preferred reaping political capital against an opposition MK to exposing the failed management of the defense budget.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must demand that Ya’alon and Gantz, as well as the candidates to replace the chief of staff next year, present him with a restructured defense budget − one without additional resources, with exercises and flights, and with no money wasted on inflated bureaus, showy flyovers or ridiculous public messages.