Barak against defense budget cuts

Defense minister: A responsible leadership must simultaneously achieve social strength and security.

barak 224.88 ap (photo credit: )
barak 224.88 ap
(photo credit: )
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has joined a chorus of protests against proposed cuts to the defense budget, sending a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and cabinet ministers which warned that the cuts would harm the IDF's multi-annual budget. The letter, composed by committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi and six defense subcommittee heads, said the government must not "descend below the red line of the multi-annual budget, in accordance with the Brodet committee." In 2007, the former Finance Ministry director general David Brodet headed a committee of top defense officials and economic experts to examine the issue of cuts to defense budgets. The Brodet committee report said the government should raise the defense budget by an annual NIS 46 million, and called for built-in incremental additions to the budgets over the next ten years. Speaking on Saturday ahead of a vote on the state budget, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel did "not have the luxury" to make budget cuts "in the face of threats we face, including Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. A level-headed and responsible leadership cannot vote for a cut in the defense budget." Barak added that the attempt to "present a dilemma between defense and welfare is deceiving. Welfare and education are part of defense, and a responsible leadership must simultaneously achieve social strength and security." "This week saw the two-year anniversary since the end of the Second Lebanon War, which demonstrated to all of us in the most painful way the heavy price of neglecting the military and minimizing the defense budgets in the years that preceded the war," the committee's letter said. The letter cited the deterioration in equipment stocks, a decrease in regular forces' training, and the decrease in the fighting ability of elite combat units, all of which "were a direct result of the cut in defense budgets during those same years." But the letter was not unopposed among committee members. MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz) refused to sign on to Hanegbi's initiative, arguing that the enormous gaps in Israeli society are a security interest no less important than acquiring airplanes or tanks. Defense spending, he argued, must be cut significantly to address saving Israeli society from what he described as a "decline that will threaten Israel's internal fortitude." "Barak, as the chairman of the Labor Party should be the first person to understand that," added Beilin. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On called a press conference in which he said the government had to choose between making cuts to social welfare budgets or to spending on defense. "This is a very difficult decision," Bar-On said during the conference. "My personal opinion is... that we need to opt for social welfare spending and aim to balance security and social welfare needs." One option presented by Bar-On is to trim NIS 2.5 billion from the 2009 defense budget. A second is to cut NIS 1.3b. from defense, while the remainder of the cash, NIS 1.2b., would be invested in social welfare programs. If implemented, the proposed cuts will hamper the IDF's ability to plan for new weapons systems acquisitions in the coming years, Yehuda Ben-Meir, a senior national security researcher, warned on Tuesday. Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.