The 2014 defense budget will be larger than the budget of this past year. The planned cut has been scrapped and the defense establishment will be receiving generous additional funding. Security outlays will grow even though Israel’s strategic situation has not worsened nor has there been an increase in the threats against the country. The government believes that a funding opportunity has presented itself due to increased tax revenues and unimplemented projects, and has chosen to channel that money to the defense budget.
That is how a rare opportunity to compel the army and the civilian security agencies to streamline has been squandered. Outlays for salaries, pensions and disability benefits have reached a historic high of 54 percent of the defense budget, while the slice going to strengthening the army and military purchases has declined. Instead of dealing with this, the government is enabling the situation to get even worse. The Israel Defense Forces will make do with symbolic cuts and will avoid, as always, a hard look at the cost of security.
In addition to the cut that never was in the defense establishment, comes the decision not to cut funding to the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, as well as a postponement - the third one - in the conscription of Haredi yeshiva students. And so the pledges by representatives of the “new politics,” first and foremost by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, to change national priorities, have been shelved. The prime minister has completed his victory, defeating those who tried to challenge the old politics and change ever so slightly the way resources are allocated.
Since 1977, right-wing governments have led a three-pronged agenda: a large defense budget at the heart of which is a strong career army and its pensioners; fostering an ultra-Orthodox “society of learners” who are exempt from the draft and live off government allowances; and construction of settlements in the West Bank, the Golan, and in the past, in the Gaza Strip, with the goal of annexing the territories. These outlays have come at the expense of investment in civilian infrastructure and social services intended for the majority of Israelis, who live within the Green Line.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adhered to the right-wing agenda despite the social justice protest and the weakening of his party at the ballot box. He agreed to slight changes, topped by his declaration that the security budget would be slashed, and waited for the right moment to go back to the old way. When Lapid crashed in the opinion polls and the rift grew between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, it was the prime minister’s opportunity to neutralize the finance minister and once again take control of budgetary policy. The budgetary surpluses could have been used to service the national debt or to invest in infrastructure and social services. But Netanyahu chose the army, the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox. It should therefore come as no surprise if his insistence on adhering to the old pattern leads to a flare-up of renewed protest against his government.