The IDF Rocky Horror Show

Government ministers and Knesset members need to keep a sharp eye on the defense budget and not automatically approve everything the IDF demands.

Although it's a bit too late this time, the economic situation makes it necessary to bring to an end the routine annual horror show brought to us by the Israel Defense Forces. This opens with the "scares and threats" song and dance, and bows out with additions to the defense budget.

Government ministers and Knesset members need to keep a sharp eye on the defense budget and not automatically approve everything the IDF demands. Even the governor of the Bank of Israel, who until now has been cautious about entering into conflict with the defense establishment, said a week ago that the defense budget should be cut and the money freed up should be directed to curbing poverty.

Like every military in the world, the IDF forever aspires to raise its budget over and over again. It is the job of elected parliamentarians to control its demands, and this is how it is done in all countries of the civilized democratic world - but not here.

The Knesset "defense budget committee" set up solely to tighten supervision of the budget has become a joke. Its members do not even pretend to take seriously the oversight of the defense budget. The result is that not only is the size of the defense budget determined with no link to the state of the economy, but it is also cut off from all geopolitical developments in the region.

Anyone who listens only to the IDF might well work up a panic. Every moment that goes by our security situation is getting worse and we are only two steps from annihilation. It's as if all that has happened in our region in recent years has been erased. It's as if the eastern front had not collapsed; as if fighting on Lebanese territory had not ended; as if the that threat from Saddam Hussein's Iraq had not faded away; as if a huge American army was not deployed a few hundred kilometers from our frontier; as if the former might of the Syrian army had not ebbed away to dust; as if Libya had not dismantled its weapons programs.

No, don't let any facts disturb the IDF. Positive developments cannot be allowed to interfere with the staging of its own rocky horror show.

Let's look just at a mere abbreviated list of the "scares" of the past three years:

January, 2001: The movement of an Iraqi division deep inside Iraq.

July, 2001: Hezbollah has about 7,000 rockets. A month later, defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says Hezbollah already has 8,000 rockets, among them some "that are able to reach Zikhron Yaakov and even Netanya."

February, 2002: "The arming of Iran with non-conventional weapons and the long-range missile capability of its army definitely constitute an existential threat to Israel," says the chief of staff.

March, 2002: War in Iraq is approaching, "The home front is not sufficiently prepared" and many budget resources are lacking to protect civilians.

August, 2003: Iran again tests the threatening Shihab 3 missile.

October, 2003: A new "dangerous threat" - the Saudis positioned fighter planes at Tabuk airfield; Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warns of a dangerous rearmament of Egypt.

March, 2004: It won't be long before Iran has atomic weapons.

July, 2004: The head of Military Intelligence says "in the past two years the number of short-range rockets in the possession of Hezbollah has increased from 11,000 to 13,000," some of which are capable of hitting Be'er Sheva.

Even though the scare tactics the IDF uses are as easily refuted as the emperor's new clothes, Knesset members and government ministers prefer to cooperate with the defense establishment and refuse to say out loud like an honest boy - "the king is in the altogether."

One of the IDF's "information" successes has been to convince the policymakers and the public that the government actually slashes the defense budget every year. The truth is exactly the opposite. It's enough to open the budget book - it's on the Internet - to see the truth. The defense budget has not been cut at all in the past decade, but has even grown in real terms almost every year.

So a year ago when the heads of the defense establishment screamed blue murder over a NIS 9 billion cut from their budget, the basic defense budget was identical to what it had been the previous year. Since then the 2004 budget has even grown, because on April 1 the Knesset Finance Committee, after a very brief discussion, decided to increase it by NIS 4.5 billion.

For some reason the treasury also joins in the game and approves the military's demands. The Finance Ministry people write in the budget book: Given the security situation since September 2000, in the years 2000 to 2002 additional resources were allocated to the Defense Ministry of approximately NIS 7 billion." But the IDF is not content with this addition of billions and for next year's budget they are already demanding another NIS 2.5 billion.

The defense budget must be cut. Our security situation does not justify a defense budget whose percentage of the gross domestic product is three times greater here than in Western democracies. This is without even taking into account additional huge spending on defense that is not included in the IDF budget. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intention to cut the 2005 defense budget by NIS 2-3 billion is correct. The problem is, if he doesn't get backing in advance from the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and the Knesset Finance Committee, his chances of making the defense budget smaller are exactly zero.