Defense officials disagree over budget cut implications

Vilna'i: Pockets of fat in budget can be cut "discerningly"; Defense Ministry dir.-gen. says "the IDF's abilities will be impeded."

IDF Tank 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IDF Tank 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Backing up Defense Minister Ehud Barak's position, Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani warned Monday that budget cuts proposed in the Trajtenberg Committee report would hinder the IDF's preparedness.
"The IDF's abilities will be impeded. It will be hard to sustain training, call up reserves and there will be a serious blow to the equipment inventory," Shani told Army Radio.
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Some defense officials, however, had a different perspective. Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said the defense budget has room for cuts. "You can cut the defense budget, but it must be done discerningly," he told Israel Radio on Monday.
Every big budget has pockets of fat, he continued, warning that harm will arise only if the budget is cut arbitrarily.
The Trajtenberg report, approved by the cabinet on Sunday, proposes trimming some NIS 6 billion from the Defense Ministry over the next two years, a proposal that yielded a sharp debate between Barak and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Sunday's cabinet meeting.
Barak argued that despite the need for substantial changes within the government to facilitate socioeconomic changes, the Defense Ministry cannot afford any dramatic budget cuts. At a time when Israel faces numerous threats, he said, this is not the time for dramatic cuts.
At one point, Steinitz said he was sure that even with cuts, the Defense Ministry could provide sufficient answers for the country's security needs, including the missile threat. The defense budget had been raised by NIS 112 billion, he said, so it could afford to be cut.
Netanyahu said that he studied all the proposals carefully, and was convinced they would not harm the country's security. "I can vouch for Israel's security and I am responsible," Netanyahu said. "It is possible to preserve the country's security, even with this change."
Herb Keinon and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.