Shell Shock

The man who so recklessly made the decision to go to war is continuing to make unsound decisions now that it has ended, as well.

On May 30, 1948, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary that 6,000 tank shells, at a cost of $60,000, had to be purchased and that their delivery would probably cost around $300,000. On November 24, 1948, the prime minister wrote in his diary: Shaul is bringing products: light weapons and ammunition - $9,815; guns and shells - $428,000; armored vehicles - $2 million; explosives - $1 million; navy - $6,580,000. On December 26, 1948, he wrote: "Battalion 13 losses: 13 killed, 10 missing, 35 wounded, lost a lot of weapons."

The first prime minister, therefore, paid attention not only to the bloody price that the War of Independence was exacting but also to its expenses. His diaries are filled with figures, showing that he conducted the war while supervising its expenses.

Fifty-eight years later, the incumbent prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is acting in a completely different way. Last week he forced the treasury to add NIS 1.9 billion to the defense budget, thus bringing it next year to NIS 52.4 billion - the largest in history. This was after NIS 8.2 billion had already been added to the defense budget since the end of the second Lebanon war. The man who so recklessly made the decision to go to war is continuing to make unsound decisions now that it has ended, as well.

One can understand Olmert: like the military leadership, he too is affected by the residue of the war against Hezbollah. Like them, he is haunted by guilt over its results. Like them, he wishes to prepare in the best way possible for the next military test. Like them, he wants to be remembered as one who took every precaution. Like them, he is captive to the concept that the faults of the last war derive, to a considerable extent, from a shortage of resources resulting from erroneous cuts in the defense budget.

While understanding the prime minister's motives, it does not follow that he is right. The needs of the defense system should be weighed soberly against other national needs and should derive from balanced evaluations. It is doubtful whether the decisions on the defense budget's size fulfill this requirement. The second Lebanon war was conducted very wastefully. The fire power that Israel poured on Hezbollah was four times larger than Hezbollah's fire (Hezbollah was also wasteful, from its own point of view). The abundant use of weapons derived from the battlefield concept of the General Staff, headed by Dan Halutz - that exercising massive fire power would achieve victory. Some of the ammunition, especially air-to-surface missiles, are very expensive, but the other means used by the armored and infantry corps are not cheap either.

It is possible, of course, to say financial considerations are marginal to the general effort, which strives to defeat Hezbollah, and certainly of secondary importance to the desire to save lives. However, those questioning the way the war was conducted, including its economic price, are also concerned for every soldier's safety. To demonstrate how relevant this criticism is, it is worth paying attention to the calculation made by Danny Reshef, a retired intelligence officer, in Maariv three days ago. Israel spent NIS 12.5 million to kill one Hezbollah fighter in the last war.

While this figure is not accurate, it certainly gives a ballpark. The last war was extremely wasteful. Since those responsible for it still have their hand on the budget and still determine the IDF's needs, it is not superfluous to call for a more responsible and transparent procedure in setting the defense budget. At the moment, those in charge of this mission are suffering from shell shock.