Mofaz ‘holding the defense budget hostage,’ officials say

Foreign Affairs and Defense panel chairman accuses Defense Minister Ehud Barak of "using the Knesset as a rubber stamp."

shaul mofaz 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shaul mofaz 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Shaul Mofaz is “holding the defense budget hostage,” defense officials said on Sunday after the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee called to cut the defense budget.
Last week, Mofaz rejected a Defense Ministry request for NIS 620 million which it said was intended for the Air Force, the Ground Forces Command and Military Intelligence.
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The defense budget for 2011 started at NIS 51 billion but has received a number of supplements over the past year amounting to an additional NIS 5b.
“The defense budget is significantly larger than that of any other ministry,” Mofaz said. “I will not accept the Defense Ministry treating the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee like a rubber stamp.”
Mofaz explained that there needs to be a detailed discussion of Barak’s request in the committee before a decision is made.
“That’s how democracy works, even if it’s hard for the defense minister to digest,” he said.
Mofaz said that he voted down the request since the Defense Ministry was not operating in “good faith and with transparency.”
One defense official said Sunday that Mofaz was using the defense budget as a political tool to boost his popularity ahead of the Kadima primaries and the expected race against current party chairwoman Tzipi Livni.
“His political advisers have told him to be more militant and to focus on Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,” the official said.
“He is using the defense budget as an excuse and as a political tool.”
Mofaz denied the claims of politicization, and said he would not give in to threats and bullying.
“I will say the truth and what I believe in: Whoever does not understand that Israel is in the middle of a deep social crisis does not truly understand security, social justice and Zionism,” he added.
Barak warned on Sunday against cutting the defense budget in response to the social protests that have swept the country.
“We live in the Middle East and it would be wrong to ignore that fact,” he said.
In an interview with Army Radio, Barak said he sympathized with the protesters, saying affordable housing “is not a luxury,” but added that he would agree to budget cuts only as part of a comprehensive “package deal.”
He said, “The Defense Ministry and the IDF are part of the country and we will help carry the burden with everyone – if there will be a package deal, we will be part of it.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.