Lapid: Plenty of fat can be trimmed from IDF budget

Government and army at odds over budget for coming year; Gantz warns of cuts to training programs.

IDF soldiers tank Mefalsim area_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
IDF soldiers tank Mefalsim area_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid made his stance on potential and unwelcome cuts to the Israel Defense Forces very clear Thursday. He rejected claims that he did not understand the needs of the military, and warned that there was plenty of room for budgetary cuts.
“We are responsible people and are familiar with the needs [of the IDF],” he said as he made his way to a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“I sit in the cabinet and it is not that we don’t understand the threats,” he said. “In the defense establishment there is enough fat that we can trim. There is an entire generation without housing, and without daycare. We have to divide the state’s money carefully and as necessary and that is what we are doing.”
The government has set a defense budget of 51 billion shekels for 2013-14, which includes a downsize of approximately 4-5 billion shekels. Gantz, however, is arguing over the amount to be cut.
If the new budget allocation cannot be made, Gantz said Sunday in an address to career Beduin soldiers, the army will have to continue cutting down its training and qualification programs. This will mostly affect the air force, land forces and reservists.
The IDF has slammed the media for presenting career soldiers as enjoying fat salaries and benefits such as dentists, play school fees and vehicles. Twenty-five percent of the serving career soldiers are receiving less than a minimum wage, the IDF says.
The government this year slashed the defense budget by three billion shekels, and a futher 1.5 billion shekels for 2014, prompting the IDF to carry out a series of cost-cutting moves.
Those moves include 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.
Slashes 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 is also cut General Staff exercises this year.
Additionally, the Defense Ministry 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 are holding talks with the Finance Ministry, through the mediation of the Prime Minister’s Office, to search for ways to leave program untouched.
The Defense Ministry has also frozen orders from Israeli manufacturers of the Merkava Mark 4 tanks and Namer APCs.
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 residents.