Taking Stock / Blasted Morals

It's hard to think of a single economic move more wicked and twisted than giving defense more money. Yet that is the very move being championed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

The miserable results of the Lebanon II war should have led to deep soul-searching throughout the entire defense establishment. It should have led to questions about how Israel can spend NIS 40 billion a year on defense (most of which goes to fund the cushy employment and retirement terms of the top brass), and yet when the crunch comes, the army doesn't get the job done.

But the defense chiefs and their cronies in government and the Knesset found a cynical and ugly way around that: to cast the blame on the public. You only give us NIS 40 billion of your tax money a year! they whine - that isn't enough. It's all your fault. Give us more.

Unhappily for the defense czars, the public isn't buying that garbage. The moans of the reserve soldiers and the groans of the taxpayers are increasing in volume.

Aside from the brass suckling at the government teat, nobody buys the nonsense that there is a direct link between defense spending and our level of security.

If the prime minister and finance minister fold before the extortionist demands of the army, they will be dealing a death-blow to the Israeli economy. They will undercut growth, impair our standard of living and crush the delicate buds of responsible financial management that had started to bloom in recent years.

In fact, the defense establishment's demand for an extra NIS 30 billion a year borders on corruption.

The prime minister and finance minister must reject these demands and clarify that from now on, defense will not receive one single shekel unless it strips bare, opens itself to complete auditing, exposes each shekel that it spends and fundamentally reforms its management and budget practices.

Yes, we need money to rearm, to equip the soldiers. We also need to learn the real lessons of Lebanon II. But all that can be done within the framework of the present defense budget: the waste, the corruption and the flab in the military establishment is impossible to miss. The army doesn't need more money for that.