Israel, an Army With a Country Attached

The military doesn’t have Iraq and Syria to threaten us with anymore, so it claims it needs more funds for training and watches the billions roll in.

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
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Nahal Haredi soldiers training.
Nahal Haredi soldiers training.Credit: Archive
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

The Israel Defense Forces has no money. That’s clear. It’s true that it receives a measly 61 billion shekels ($17.4 billion) a year from Israeli and American taxpayers, but that’s nothing. That’s not money.

A few days ago, the IDF announced that it has to cut back on training exercises because there’s no money. So what if its budget is larger than the military budgets of all the surrounding Arab countries combined? So what if its budget is the highest in the world relative to gross domestic product? There’s no money for training, and without training you lose wars.

That’s the IDF’s method: Find the most frightening talking point and let her rip. Don’t mention the tens of billions that it uses for a thousand other purposes.

Once it was easier to use scare tactics; the IDF had lots of frights in its arsenal. It had giant Egypt to the south, but what can you do if Egypt is busy with coups and economic problems? It had the Syrian dictator to the north, but now Bashar Assad is barely surviving and his tanks are rusting. It had Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Iran’s Shahab 3 missiles “aimed at the heart of Tel Aviv,” but Saddam is gone and even Iran’s nuclear threats sound hollow.

That’s why the army has no choice but to roll out the doomsday weapon: money for training exercises. In the same breath it’s reminding us that its failure in the Second Lebanon War stemmed from a lack of training, which stemmed from a lack of funds.

That’s a big lie, of course. The failure in Lebanon stemmed from a lack of sense; the Winograd Committee said so clearly. But when you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.

In any case, the talk about cutting back on training in order to pressure the Finance Ministry isn’t legitimate. The moment the chief of staff cuts a single hour of training due to “budgetary problems” instead of cutting the IDF’s fat, he should be dismissed. His first mission is to carry out all necessary training exercises and only then see to pay raises, pensions, sports facilities and military attaches abroad.

But the IDF knows that it’s stronger than the government. In mid-2013, at the height of Israel’s budget crisis, the government decided to cut the defense budget by 3 billion shekels. Finance Minister Yair Lapid called this a tremendous achievement, and his associates showered him with praise.

But less than four months later the security cabinet restored 2.75 billion shekels to the army, with Lapid voting in favor. Then we gave a few more hundreds of millions to the army due to its magnanimous consent to evacuate bases in the center of the country, so the entire cutback turned into an increment.

With a budget cut, defense officials would have been forced to streamline. But when a cut turns into an increment, why bother?

That’s why nobody touched the infuriating redundancies in the IDF and the Defense Ministry, and nobody reduced the bloated procurement delegations abroad. Nobody implemented the necessary reform at the department for rehabbing wounded vets, and nobody halted the grandiose projects that cost billions. Every junior officer continues to receive his own car and driver and a scandalous pension at 46, with a 6 percent increase granted by the chief of staff and another 6 percent for compulsory service.

Behind the threat to stop training exercises lie many demands. The IDF is demanding another 800 million shekels for this year and an extra 5 billion to 6 billion shekels for 2015 – which is the main problem. If it receives it, the people will pay the price. Instead of adding to the budgets for education, health, welfare, day care, infrastructure, professional training and housing, the treasury will be forced to cut back in those areas.

But why am I talking about education and welfare? There isn’t even any money for training.

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