Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz dropped something of a bombshell on Monday. All training exercises for reserve soldiers will be canceled until the end of 2014, due to budgetary restraints, he declared, in his first public statement on the issue.
He reiterated this message on Tuesday during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has been broadcasting the same message for many weeks.
“We are in a crisis,” Ya’alon said earlier this month during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting. “We will be forced to lower the standards of our training in the air, on the sea and on the ground, to deteriorate in our preparedness, readiness and abilities.”
Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry decided to stop providing NIS 10,000 for the yearly commemoration of the victims of the 1974 Ma’alot Massacre, in which Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorists killed 31 people, including 22 children. The reason given was “budgetary restraints.” The mourning families were distraught.
These same “budgetary restraints” did not prevent 25 high-ranking officers from taking a 10-day trip to the US this month to meet with a wide variety of officials and personalities.
Finance Ministry officials, meanwhile, have rejected Ya’alon’s demand to add NIS 2 billion to the 2014 defense budget as well as NIS 6b. to the 2015 budget.
The cabinet approved the current 2014 defense budget last year, Treasury officials noted, and Ya’alon was one of the ministers who voted for it.
Since then, NIS 3b. was added to the budget. Adding yet another NIS 2b. is out of the question, they say.
“The Defense Ministry, like all other ministries, is obligated to remain within its budgetary limitations,” Treasury officials said. “It is too bad that the Defense Ministry is using fear tactics against citizens instead of taking care of structural problems.”
THE TREASURY is in essence accusing Ya’alon and Gantz of engaging in emotional blackmail. And there is something to this claim. Ya’alon and Gantz are basically telling the public via the news media that unless the government allocates a larger budget for defense, Israel will be too weak to defend itself against its many enemies and the government will be to blame.
Ya’alon and Gantz did not invent this tactic.
Nearly every year, defense ministers and IDF chiefs of staff have issued similar warnings. And this tactic succeeds in mobilizing politicians to support a larger defense budget.
Israel’s security challenges are immense and the details of the defense budget must of necessity remain classified. Members of the public has no choice but to place their trust in the military establishment.
No politician, including the prime minister, wants to risk being blamed for a lack of military preparedness in the wake of the next conflagration.
But Ya’alon and Gantz’s public campaign has exceeded all reasonable proportions. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has an obligation to put an end to this embarrassing spectacle. He has to decide whether or not the government should acquiesce to Ya’alon’s demands.
He should also make it clear to Ya’alon and Gantz that while they have an obligation to ensure that the IDF remains strong, the ends do not justify the means.
Just as the sensitive details of the defense budget are classified, so too should the war Ya’alon and Gantz are waging for a larger budget remain behind closed doors.