The Budget Is Not to Blame

The IDF budget for this year is enormous - NIS 46.5 billion, excluding the special supplements for the war effort. This figure does not appear in the graphs the IDF is handing out to analysts. The figure there is different - NIS 33.5 billion.

In recent days, the reservists have intensified their criticism of the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces and the failed management of the war. They complain about the confusion in the orders they were issued, the indecision, the lack of essential equipment for battle, shortages in water and food, and training exercises that were not held. The outgoing commander of infantry and the paratroopers, Brigadier General Yossi Hyman, acknowledged Sunday: "Our sin was hubris... I failed to prepare the infantry better for the war."

But senior analysts in the media say that poor management is not to blame. They point the finger at the cuts in the defense budget. They adopted the army's position hook, line and sinker, without checking the data, and they enthusiastically recommend a magical solution: Increase the defense budget for both the ground and air forces - how simple and populist.

The IDF budget for this year is enormous - NIS 46.5 billion, excluding the special supplements for the war effort. This figure does not appear in the graphs the IDF is handing out to analysts. The figure there is different - NIS 33.5 billion. This is because the IDF does not include the U.S. military aid in its calculation. It seems that procuring aircraft, helicopters, tank engines, fuel and other equipment simply does not count. The army also does not calculate the NIS 3.6 billion in income from the sale of equipment.

It also turns out that in spite all the talk about cuts in the IDF budget, not only was it not slashed, it actually increased over the past 12 years (see graph). The budget did shrink a bit over the past three years, but that followed the large increases it received due to the intifada.

The outgoing head of planning in the IDF, Major General Yitzhak Harel, says that the IDF does not actually have NIS 33.5 billion in its budget, but only NIS 21.3 billion. Is that possible? He argues that three sums should be deleted from the calculation of the available budget - the budget for pensions (NIS 3.7 billion), the budget for retirement benefits (NIS. 3.5 billion), and the budget of the Defense Ministry (NIS 5.0 billion). Nice try. It doesn't work that way.

Pensions are an integral part of the army's expenses, as are retirement benefits. The army is constantly pressing to improve, and this costs a lot of money. The army could save huge sums if it were to agree to raising the retirement age for its staff who are not on the front line and who essentially constitute most of its manpower. Why should a soldier serving in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv be allowed to retire at 41? Why should anyone who retires from the IDF at such a young age receive, in addition to a pension, grants and benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels?

Order should also be restored in the benefits department. It is inconceivable that individuals serving on the home front should be entitled to retirement benefits as combat troops. The Defense Ministry's budget is also part of the defense expenditures. Of course, if it is considered an unnecessary institution, why not close it, and lay off its 2,000 employees, thus saving billions?

One of the toughest battles fought by the defense establishment in 2003 was not over the number of training days for reservists, but over the health tax payments of its staff. In the end, a solution was found: The Defense Ministry volunteered to pay a quarter of the health tax of its staff. They had money for that, but not for training, equipment and stores.

And this is how it came to be that in the absence of an airlift from the United States, to replenish shells and missiles, the IDF would have had nothing to shoot in Lebanon.

The chief of staff has absolute discretion when it comes to determining the priorities in the defense budget. This kind of freedom does not exist in any other government institution. He could have made cuts in the rear - in manpower, in the multiple and costly commands, in the "company" cars, in the holidays, the gyms, the employment conditions, early retirement. And all these savings could have been moved over to training, to stores and necessary equipment for reservists. This is precisely within his power to do. It is not clear therefore how Dan Halutz and the rest of the generals slept well, knowing that the reservists did not train and the depots were empty.

Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal, who until a year ago commanded the IDF ground forces, is now openly critical of the "wasteful maintenance costs of the IDF" and the order of priorities that benefited the air force over the ground forces. He does not blame the budget, but says: "I believe that we had enough in order to win."

But we did not win - and not because of the budget.