Budget will pose early challenge for new defense minister

Halutz hopes to convince Peretz to delay any cuts.

With IDF operations against Islamic Jihad continuing in northern Samaria and Kassam rocket fire in Gaza, Israel's new defense minister - Amir Peretz - will immediately have his hands full directing the military. But one issue that will need to be addressed straight away, is the planned cuts to the multi-billion-dollar defense budget. Israel's defense budget today stands at NIS 34.05 billion. Since 2002, it has been accumulatively cut by NIS 17b., almost the same amount as is allocated to the IDF. The rest of the funds are distributed to the various security branches - Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Mossad - as well as other defense-related projects. On Thursday, outgoing Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with Peretz for their first work meeting and to brief him on the current critical issues waiting for the Labor Party chairman at his new desk at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Additional cuts to the defense budget, senior military officials claimed, would seriously impair the IDF's ability to continue protecting the State of Israel. "We are already at the bare minimum," a senior officer recently said. Peretz, however, has repeatedly declared in the past that the defense budget was too high and needed to be cut. IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz plans to try and convince Peretz to hold back on the cuts and has already ordered the IDF Planning Directorate to prepare manuals on all the various military branches for Peretz to use to become acquainted with the defense establishment. During a farewell meeting with the IDF General Staff on Thursday, Halutz praised Mofaz, who he said had for the past 40 years led troops in battle and had kept Israel safe. Mofaz, Halutz said, stood at the forefront of the IDF's war on terrorism over the past five years and was responsible for several revolutions in the army. One such revolution included the plan to move IDF bases to the Negev and the shortening of mandatory military service. Mofaz called the IDF General Staff Israel's "National Team," claiming that the IDF generals generated a feeling of security throughout the nation. "There is no room for mistakes and personal battles," Mofaz said. "This is all about teamwork."