Barak and MKs spar at Knesset defense committee

"You said nothing of substance," Bar-On tells defense minister; Barak calls for larger budget to expand missile defense.

Ehud Barak 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Ehud Barak 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was panned by Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee members on Monday after giving a review of the country’s current defense situation.
No more than five MKs other than Barak and committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) were in the closed-door meeting at the same time, although the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has 15 members. The meeting began late and ended one hour earlier than scheduled, leading the MKs present to question Barak’s thoroughness.
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MK Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) called the meeting “an embarrassment” after Barak spoke.
“Do you remember a situation in the past, with all the roles you have filled, when so few MKs attended a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting – especially when the defense minister is speaking?” Bar-On asked Barak.
“The Knesset is dead because the executive branch has onethird of the Knesset,” Bar-On later told reporters.
The Kadima MK said that Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meetings used to be packed. “Today, when the defense minister came after five months, hardly anyone was there,” he added.
Bar-On also criticized Barak’s speech.
“Read the meeting’s protocol, and you’ll see – you didn’t say anything of substance,” he told Barak in the meeting.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) criticized Barak as well, accusing the Defense Minister of giving Ma’ariv reporter Ben Caspit more information than the committee.
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) also slammed Barak during her brief visit to the committee meeting.
“The government does not have a strategy; it uses minor tactics in major strategic events,” Livni said. “The government’s lack of a diplomatic answers hurts Israel’s security.”
Barak criticized Kadima in return, calling for the party to join the coalition.
The Defense Minister explained that, with an investment of NIS 7 billion in missile defense systems, “there can be a significant, positive change in Israel’s strategic balance in the region.”
“For that, we need a larger defense budget,” he added. “If Kadima joins the government, it would be much simpler.”
Barak gave a general overview of Israeli security in light of the current turmoil in the Middle East.
“It’s hard to know how or when the region will restabilize after the events that have been shaking it,” the Defense Minister said.
In reference to the “aerial flotilla,” Barak said “it failed because we learned the lessons of previous events.”
He also discussed Syria, saying that “it will be hard for Assad’s regime to survive.”
“The Syrian regime has a dilemma,” Barak explained. “On the one hand, it wants there to be calm; on the other hand, it does not want to show weakness.”
Barak added that the instability in Syria will lead to Hezbollah obtaining additional weapons and property.
Should Hezbollah gain in strength – and there is an escalation on that front – Barak said Israel “made sure to relay to the Lebanese government that it will be seen as responsible.”
On the topic of a possible unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the UN in September, Barak said he hopes that negotiations with the Palestinians will begin, stopping the vote. However, should the efforts fail, “we will do everything we can to get the support of as many states possible in the UN,” he said.
Earlier Monday, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee rejected a government request to extend the temporary order allowing military recruits to be enlisted in the police’s ranks, rather than the IDF.
Mofaz extended the temporary order by four months, so the Public Security Ministry could present the committee with a plan to reduce the number of soldiers sent to serve in the police force.
Currently, 1,800 men and women do mandatory military service as police officers.