The security cabinet unanimously voted on Thursday to increase the defense
budget by NIS 2.75 billion, NIS 1.75b. less than the Defense Ministry had
“We unanimously passed a decision that [strikes a] balance
between the major security challenges facing the State of Israel and the need to
continue responsibly piloting the Israeli economy in the face of the global
economic crisis,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.
also decided to establish a public committee to monitor the defense budget, and
assigned Harel Locker, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, to lead
a team to work out how to expedite the closure of IDF camps in the country’s
center and free up land for building.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid had
sought to maintain the defense cuts from a budget approved in July: NIS 3b. cut
for 2013, and a further NIS 1.5b. for 2014.
“The prime minister decided
to add to the defense budget despite my opposition to it in the discussion,”
Lapid said, despite having voted for the final arrangement.
“I’m glad we
managed to prevent the passage of the full amount that the defense establishment
wanted, the NIS 1.75b. we need for dorms, for health, for education and for
steps that will lead to lowering the cost of living.”
Moshe Ya’alon said that despite the increase, there were still gaps in the
defense budget, and lashed out at Lapid for his attempts at further
The defense establishment cut NIS 3b. from its budget “out of an
understanding that we need to play our part in tackling the deficit,” he said.
“As we’ve explained all along, the gap created for us [by the originally-planned
defense cut of NIS 4.5b.] led to an impossible reality, the significance of
which is a substantial blow to security and to the economy, to an extent that
could lead to an erosion of the IDF’s power and the firing of thousands of
defense industry employees.”
Ya’alon criticized Finance Ministry
officials for what he said was a cynical, “irresponsible, political” campaign
that was filled with falsehoods, aimed at the “systematic and ugly
delegitimization of the IDF’s career soldiers.”
The campaign exposed the
salaries of career IDF soldiers in a “distorted and manipulative manner,” in
order to whip up public opinion against them, Ya’alon charged.
to the Prime Minister’s Office, the funds added to the budget were “surplus
funds,” monies set aside during budgeting for incidental and emergency spending
throughout the year.
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said the
decision to cancel the budget cut was expected.
“It is very worrying that
a decision to add NIS 2.75b. to the defense budget was made through political
armwrestling among ministers,” Yacimovich stated. “It raises questions about the
way the Netanyahu government makes decisions.”
The Labor leader called on
Netanyahu to find billions for health, education, employment and welfare as he
did for the Defense Ministry.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On said the
Defense Ministry turned into “a juicer in uniform” and bashed Netanyahu and
Lapid’s “shameful capitulation.”
“Every shekel added to the defense
budget is taken from health, education and welfare,” she said. “The time has
come for the prime minister to understand that real security does not start and
end with tanks and reservists, and that the number of beds in hospitals, defense
from street and domestic violence and employment and nutritional security are
also urgent issues.”
Speaking to Ynet earlier in the day, Lapid said that
cuts were necessary for Israel’s economic health, and argued that there was
plenty of fat to trim from the IDF budget without jeopardizing national
“Everyone who’s done reserve duty in the past 20 years and was
on an army base knows there’s room to cut at the IDF,” he said.
not saying we’re going to lay off the pilot who was supposed to have attacked
On Tuesday, the Knesset Finance Committee approved a NIS 251.7
million increase to the defense budget.
Despite the bluster on budgetary
problems, Lapid had some room to maneuver on increased spending. For one, the
actual budget deficit for 2013 has been coming in well below the 4.65% target.
For another, a new formula for calculating Gross Domestic Product, the measure
of economic output against which fiscal targets are set, changed the parameters
that the government was working with, giving him even more wiggle
Even with new calculations helping Israel meet its 2013 and 2014
deficit targets, however, the Bank of Israel warned that NIS 3.5b.
still have to be cut from planned expenditures in both 2015 and 2016 to stay
within spending limits, beyond which further cuts or tax increases would be
necessary to keep the deficit sustainable.
The original budget cuts
prompted the IDF to carry out a series of cost-cutting moves, including axing
air force squadrons, shutting down tank and artillery units, and downsizing the
Israel Navy. Between 3,000 and 5,000 career soldiers are being let go as well.
All reserve duty and training has been called off for the remainder of 2013,
while combat training for enlisted soldiers has been downsized.
in training activities for regular soldiers are also being felt in the IDF Home
Front Command, the Engineering Corps and the Artillery Corps. Training programs
for the Armored Corps will be cut by a number of weeks. The IDF also cut General
Staff exercises this year.
Additionally, the Defense Ministry said it may
be forced to slow down the development of the Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile
system, designed to intercept Iranian missiles in space, due to the budget cuts.
Officials from the Defense Ministry held talks with the Finance Ministry,
through the mediation of the Prime Minister’s Office, to search for ways to
leave the program untouched.
The Defense Ministry also froze orders from
Israeli manufacturers of the Merkava Mark 4 tanks and Namer armored personnel
On Thursday, the IDF began implementing a decision to pull
soldiers out of front line communities near the northern and southern borders, a
decision slammed by local authority heads as harmful to the security of local