What's the Army Really Saying? / Your Drugs Are Costing Our Tanks

Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz need not worry. They don't need to wait for the final version of the Winograd report to find out how the Second Lebanon War was mishandled. That is because the army didn't sit around cleaning gun barrels. It held its own inquiry, and found whose fault it is.

It's yours. Your sacrifices over the years to the state kitty have been pathetic, and last summer the bill came due.

It's your fault, middle-class taxpayers, for not paying enough income tax. Marginal income tax of 35 percent, before health and other taxes? For shame.

Your poor consume health services and welfare, and insist on receiving unemployment and old-age benefits. For shame, you burdens on society, the treasury and the defense establishment.

That's our defense system: It not only quickly identifies the evildoer, but it also reaches courageous conclusions. The outgoing economic adviser to the chief of staff, Brigadier General Moshe Lippel, said last week that he'd examined the issues as an economist and concluded that the money existed to increase the defense budget further.

Lippel is right, of course. If you've ever visited the National Insurance Institute, the Employment Service, an old-age home or a hospital, you know the money is rolling down the corridors. Here are some places where money is hiding:

b The drugs basket is crammed with excessive medications. Take penicillin. There's no reason it shouldn't be removed from the basket, so we can return the retirement age of army noncoms to 42.

b There are plenty of patients still languishing in hospital wards, instead of in the corridors. Kick them out into the hallways, and with the money saved, we can move the army's procurement delegation in New York to Park Avenue. Right now it's on Second Avenue (oh, the shame).

b There are hundreds of thousands of old people whose allowances keep their heads above water. Let them learn to swim! They evidently never grasped that when the training is tough, the battle is easier. Slash their stipends by 30 percent and use the savings to develop a new tank, a Merkava Mark 10.

b There are still a lot of public academic institutions. It's high time to stop subsidizing them. The money they waste on research and similar twaddle could be used to widen the gap between pay in the defense sector and the private sector, by, say, another 50 percent.

Lippel and his people concluded that defense spending could be increased by NIS 148 billion over 10 years. Considering that the entire national budget is just NIS 283 billion, there no question about it: His demand is a modest one.

To put aside the levity: While you sit there, mouth agape at the sheer gall of the defense establishment as it wallows in its high salaries, pensions and sheer waste, Lippel explains how the Finance Ministry officials are defeated each year:

"We have people with experience. Knowhow passes from generation to generation ... That is one of our great advantages over the Finance Ministry. History constantly repeats itself," Lippel says. "At the treasury, the staff constantly changes."

Don't you think that the army has been deteriorating from year to year, stumbling from war to war. There is at least one unit that brings home the bacon, because it has terrific people. Not because they're masters of economics, but simply because the Finance Ministry officials constantly change, while the army has Experience and Tradition, passed down from generation to generation.