Steinitz calls for cuts in defense budget

Finance minister tells Knesset c'tee it's "problematic" that the security establishment perennially spends beyond its budget.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called for further transparency and budget cuts in the Defense Ministry, which he called “a state within a state” during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on Monday.
“True transparency in the security budget will allow Israel to be run properly,” Steinitz said. “The defense budget must be regulated; in the end, this will help the Defense Ministry, not harm it.”
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The meeting with Steinitz came after months of debate in the committee and statements from Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on the importance of maintaining the growing level of funds. The issue has taken on increasing importance following the summer’s social protests and the Trajtenberg Committee on social change’s recommendations to make cuts in the defense budget and allocate the funds elsewhere.
“On the one hand, the instability in the Middle East makes the regional security situation increasingly volatile, but at the same time, it is weakening the military capabilities of Arab countries – especially their ability to grow stronger,” Steinitz explained.
Steinitz cited the 2007 Brodet Report on the defense budget, which approved an increase of NIS 100 billion over 10 years.
“Although this is a large addition, in practice, the security apparatus has spent beyond its budget every year,” he stated.
“This is problematic and serious.
For example, in 2009, the budget deviated by NIS one billion, and in 2012, it will be NIS three billion.
“Even if all of Trajtenberg’s recommendations are enacted, the defense budget will not go back to the situation before the Brodet Report,” Steinitz added.
According to the Finance Minister, “the Defense Ministry’s deviations force us to raise taxes and decrease funding for welfare and education.”
Steinitz warned against deficit spending in order to support the Defense Ministry’s demand, explaining that such a move would lower Israel’s credit rating.
The way to make the Defense Ministry more efficient is to allow for transparency and external inspection, he said.
“Every government office has transparency, while the Defense Ministry is not transparent to senior Finance Ministry officials or even the finance minister,” Steinitz stated. “Ninety-three percent of the changes in the defense budget are not approved in advance by the Knesset, but only after the fact.
Whatever is not confidential must be supervised, like in any other ministry.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) said that “the impression I get is that in the security apparatus, and everything that is connected to the defense budget, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.
“I think that the prime minister and defense minister are making deals under the table so that the Defense Ministry can get more funds,” Mofaz said.
“These additions are much more than what the Knesset approved, and everything is happening behind the Finance Minister’s back.”
According to committee member MK Arye Eldad (National Union), “Israel should have made the defense budget one of the seven wonders of the world, instead of the Dead Sea, since it is the only thing that shrinks and grows at the same time.”
“The IDF still hasn’t internalized the fact that it is subordinate to the government,” Eldad added. “They act like an army that has a state.”
“You can’t make a populist comparison and say that the defense budget hurts welfare,” said MK Amir Peretz (Labor), a former defense minister. “If the defense budget has to be cut, do it with no connection to welfare.”