Defense Always Wins the Budget Battle

Total rollback of planned cuts to defense budget is a stinging loss for Yair Lapid, the treasury and Israel's citizens.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid tried to make it look like a compromise, but the truth is that the treasury ended its confrontation with the defense establishment bloody and battered. The result is that the “compromise” reached over the weekend is a near-total rollback of the planned cuts to the defense budget. It’s a stinging loss for Lapid, the treasury and Israel's citizens.

When the Knesset passed the cuts to the defense budget four months ago, it was widely acclaimed. Finance Ministry officials declared it an enormous accomplishment, achieved after the finance minister’s tough battle against the Israel Defense Forces and the defense lobby. They noted that Lapid had convinced Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to support the cuts. Indeed, Ya’alon did initially support the budget cut in the cabinet and the Knesset, but he soon changed tack and demanded a restoration of the cuts, and then some. After intense lobbying by the Defense Ministry and the IDF, the security cabinet, Lapid included, has now voted unanimously to restore NIS 2.75 billion of the NIS 3 billion “cut” from the military budget. The “enormous accomplishment” became a resounding failure. The defense establishment proved, once again, that it always has the upper hand in any contest with the treasury.

In light of the huge additional allocations the IDF got after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, for training and equipment, as well as the great reduction in the conventional threats facing Israel as a result of the domestic crises in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, now would be a good time to introduce cost-cutting and efficiency measures in the army and the entire defense establishment, and to divert the savings into health and welfare, among other areas. But in capitulating to the defense establishment’s demands and the near-total restoration of the planned budget cut, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has robbed all meaning from the demand for the defense establishment to become efficient and eliminate the fat from its operations.

And so, the Israeli public will continue to finance the exasperating duplication between the IDF and the Defense Ministry; the inflated security and purchasing junkets abroad; the astonishingly profligate spending of the ministry’s rehabilitation division; the army bases sitting on expensive real estate in central Israel; the 24/7 car and driver of low-ranking officers serving at the Kirya defense headquarters in Tel Aviv; the scandalously high pensions of career army officers who serve far from combat and retire at 46 - to name just a few examples.

The public, which has grown accustomed to blindly accepting the size of the defense budget and all that is done under its aegis, must understand that it is the one paying the price of “victory.” The addition will prevent Lapid and Netanyahu from being able to cut taxes in 2015, as planned. It will prevent them from spending more on education, health, welfare, day care for children, critical infrastructure and ending the housing shortage.

Alon Basson / Defense Ministry