Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz took a victory lap around Defense Minister Ehud
Barak for successfully reining in what he called the “black hole” of defense
spending, setting up an argument for continued cuts in the
Speaking to Defense News’s Barbara Opall-Rome in an interview to
be published on Monday, Steinitz said, “The first time I raised this issue in
the cabinet, Barak said, ‘Over my dead body.
This will never happen.’ He
accused the Treasury of trying to control and dictate to the Defense Ministry.
It took me two-and-ahalf years of hard struggle vis-àvis Barak, two Israel
Defense Forces chiefs of staff and a very strong lobby.”
legal requirement to trim an estimated NIS 13 billion from the 2013 budget has
the Defense Ministry on edge, as numerous experts point to its programs for ways
to trim the fat.
Steinitz has mentioned cutting NIS 3b. from defense,
while more recent rumors put the figure at NIS 4.5b. over two years.
the interview, Steinitz said that defense spending had lacked transparency and
“Up until last year, the finance minister, relevant
Knesset leaders and even the prime minister didn’t have a clue about how money
was spent,” he said. “The tax authorities didn’t even know how much to deduct
from salaries because we had no access to their books.”
Now, however, the
Finance Ministry has direct computer connections to the Defense
“We see all contracts, tenders, progress payments and salary
expenditures. Now, we see exactly where the money is going, what is the tempo of
spending and whether they are running into trouble,” he said.
of defense spending remains a controversial one in the government. Last year, at
a time when the budget was being slashed to reduce the deficit, Barak persuaded
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to carve out a NIS 2b. exception for defense
spending. That, Steinitz says, came with strings attached: opening up to
transparency. It also meant giving the Finance Ministry authority to submit the
ministry’s budget book.
During the standoff, Barak argued that Finance
Ministry oversight would compromise security.
“I’m responsible for the
security of Israel’s citizens, and I am not prepared to fail. If we give the
Treasury the right to veto our decisions, it will directly influence our
security,” Barak explained at the time.