A Swollen Army That Must Learn Budgetary Constraints

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Israeli soldiers walk in a field after returning to Israel from Gaza, August 5, 2014.Credit: Reuters

After more than a month of fighting in Gaza, the Defense Ministry has submitted extraordinary funding demands – 7 billion shekels ($2 billion) to cover the costs of Operation Protective Edge and another 11 billion shekels ($3.2 billion) for its 2015 budget, to carry out tasks highlighted as important during the operation.

These are two different demands. The demands to cover the costs of the Gaza operation are logical in principle, but should not be accepted as is. Rather, the meaning of what the Defense Ministry calls “covering the costs of the operation” should be scrutinized. Clearly, the sum is highly exaggerated. The defense establishment should also be required to bear part of the burden and it needs to be clarified whether the establishment is not exploiting the opportunity by demanding funding for items that are unconnected to the operation. In any case, the issue of compensation should be dealt with in the current budgetary year without exceeding the budget, using budgetary reserves.

The second demand, to increase the defense budget by the enormous figure of 11 billion shekels, should not be met. Our strategic situation has not declined; the threats around us are relatively smaller than in previous years. Hamas in Gaza was hit hard – the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff said so himself. Therefore, not even a single shekel should be added to the 2015 budget over that of 2014. As it is, the budget is huge, at approximately 60 billion shekels, and is larger than the defense budgets of all the surrounding Arab countries together.

Instead of demanding 11 billion shekels, the defense establishment should streamline and implement all the lessons learned in Operation Protective Edge within its budgetary limitations. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz need to learn how to manage an organization under budgetary constraints. They should save in several areas, first and foremost the swollen commands on the home front and the huge bureaucracy. They cannot go on handing out pensions at age 46 to home front officers serving at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.

It needs to be acertained whether all the big projects are really necessary, the rehabilitation division must be reformed, delegations abroad should be cut and the extensive redundancy between the Defense Ministry and the IDF should be done away with. Conditions and weaponry for combat soldiers and officers should not be touched.

The army is not waging a struggle against the Finance Ministry. It is waging a struggle against civilian budgets. Any additions received by the IDF in 2015 will be at the expense of education, health, welfare, infrastructure, research and development, higher education and vocational training, day care centers and assistance to seniors. There are no free lunches in economics.

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