The Voracious Defense Budget

There’s no logical connection between threats and the size of the defense budget. Nevertheless, it keeps growing.

There has never been a clear connection between our security situation and the size of the defense budget. The defense establishment has always known how to present its many needs, ask for supplementary funds and receive them, too, without any clear connection to our strategic situation in the Middle East.

The two countries that could threaten us the most, Egypt and Syria, are in a deep financial crisis. Egypt has zero economic growth, rising inflation and soaring unemployment. It has problems with balancing payments because of a decline in tourism, and it is completely dependent upon the United States as far as military strength. Two billion of the $4 billion that is Egypt’s defense budget comes from the U.S., so the threat from the south is weak.

Syria’s budget is in a bad way as well. A civil war is going on there, Bashar Assad’s regime is facing collapse and the gross national product is declining. Bridges and power plants have been sabotaged and entire military bases, including air force bases, have been destroyed by the rebels. Syria has not been able to obtain state-of-the-art weaponry for years because of its shaky financial situation.

So when we talk about threats, we cannot talk only about Iran. We need to see the whole picture, including the deterioration of the economic and military situations in Egypt and Syria.

There was no logical connection in the past between the threats and the defense budget. After the victory in the Six Day War, when the borders expanded and the threat of the country being cut in half at its slender waistline passed, and the Arab armies were at an all-time low, the defense establishment demanded a huge budgetary supplement and got it. After we were hard hit in the Yom Kippur War, the outcome was the same. At the end of the 1970s, when the peace treaty with Egypt was signed and the security threat decreased significantly, the defense budget increased nonetheless. Even as the threat from the eastern front decreased during the Iran-Iraq War, the defense budget continued to grow.

The change began in 1985, when the defense budget stopped growing unchecked. From that day to this, economic considerations (in addition to security-related ones) began playing a major role. As a result, we are witness every year to a battle between the defense establishment and the Finance Ministry over the size of the budget. The battle is decided in accordance with the political strength of the defense minister and the finance minister. Today, they are Ehud Barak and Yuval Steinitz.

Barak wants a supplement of NIS 2 billion for 2013, bringing the defense budget to NIS 62.5 billion. But Steinitz wants a cutback of NIS 3 billion, most of which (NIS 2.2 billion) will go to fund free education for children aged three and four.

It should be mentioned here that even though the Trajtenberg Committee stated that NIS 3 billion must be cut from the defense budget in order to fund early-childhood education, the cutback was never carried out.

It should also be mentioned that Israel has been preparing for the Iranian threat for several years already. This can be seen in the enormous growth in the defense budget since 2009, which is also reflected in Barak’s political strength as compared with that of the prime minister and Steinitz. In other words, our attack capability vis-à-vis Iran has already been built, so the need to build it can no longer serve as justification for increasing the 2013 budget.