How Barak Keeps Bloating the Defense Budget

Barak's work is done. Now he can say to the treasury officials that if two committees of experts conclude that the defense budget has to get even bigger, who are they to say no?

Even in the corridors of the 14th floor of the building shared by the IDF General Staff and the Defense Ministry, there was a certain astonishment when they read the recommendations of the Tishler report. It was indeed to be expected that the committee that examined the defense budget, set up in secret by the defense minister, would support the positions of the minister and the General Staff - that it was forbidden to cut that budget. But it seems even Ehud Barak had not figured that the committee would conclude that the defense budget had been eroded by NIS 7 billion when compared with the blueprint of the Brodet committee (which examined the defense budget in 2006-7 ), and that it would actually recommend enlarging that budget for the coming year to NIS 66 billion, then increasing it to NIS 77 billion by 2017.

The defense minister knows the truth, after all, and is well versed in the figures, according to which the defense budget not only didn't erode, but actually swelled in the past few years. This of course will not disturb him from presenting the Tishler committee's findings as clear proof that his ministry's budget has to be enlarged.

How does it happen that a professional committee, one that is considered reasonable from every point of view, reaches conclusions and recommendations that even the top brass had not hoped for? It would have been possible to argue that, clearly, anyone appointed by the defense minister would bring in recommendations in keeping with the minister's expectations. But since it is difficult to find fault with the diligence of the committee's members, headed by Tel Aviv University Prof. Asher Tishler, the answer has to lie elsewhere.

And the answer is fairly simple. The defense budget is meant, after all, to give the Israel Defense Forces the means to deal with the threats the state is facing. Therefore the size of the budget is derived from the extent of these threats and the means with which the IDF must equip itself. This is a simple equation: The more the threats grow, the more the budget can be expected to grow. Thus it is clear how the members of the Tishler committee decided to recommend increasing the budget. The basis for their estimates about the required budget was the picture of the threats presented them by the IDF - which the committee members adopted without objection - and apparently they were also somewhat alarmed.

The success of the IDF in this case was ensured. Not one committee member was an expert on defense, intelligence or strategic affairs, and therefore their only choice was to accept the IDF's threat assessment and equipment estimate at face value. Not one of them was able to recommend, for example, that in an era of economic distress, the IDF should invest much less in dealing with the threats less likely to materialize, and in this way save billions of shekels.

Nor was there any member of the committee capable from a professional point of view of assessing the programs for development and equipment that were presented to them, nor to question whether some of these programs were actually necessary. Had they done so, they would have been able to recommend the cancellation of some hugely expensive projects whose operational necessity is questionable. Therefore, one should not be surprised that the recommendations of the Tishler committee were exactly those that the army and the minister had wanted.

Thus, through a simple but sophisticated exercise, Barak succeeded in granting respectable professional cover to the exaggerated budgetary demands of his ministry. All those good and worthy members of the committee served as pawns in the minister's hands and faithfully filled the roles he had appointed them to.

Now the IDF and the minister are in good shape. The committee's recommendations that the budget be enlarged merely strengthen those of the Brodet committee - which in 2007 recommended increasing the defense budget by NIS 90 billion in the coming decade - and even improved on them. So Barak's work is done. Now he can say to the treasury officials that if two committees of experts conclude that the defense budget has to get even bigger, who are they to say no?