The cabinet approved an additional NIS 3 billion per year for the long-term defense budget during it regular weekly meeting on Sunday, instead of the NIS 7b. requested by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The allocation was made within the framework of the recommendations issued by the Brodet Committee in May.
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Of the 21 cabinet members, sixteen voted in favor of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal to accept the Brodet Report's recommendations, which called for a rejection of the request for an additional NIS 7b., while only five ministers supported Barak's motion.
Ahead of Sunday's budget discussions, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warned Finance Ministry officials they would bear responsibility for any repercussions if they refused to approve the NIS 7b. increase.
"I ask you to approve our request. I warn that if it isn't approved, you will bear the responsibility," Ashkenazi said.
The Brodet Committee, headed by former Treasury director-general David Brodet, was set up after disagreements erupted between the Defense and Finance ministries following the Second Lebanon War over the Defense Ministry's demand of a budget increase of some NIS 30b. The Finance Ministry provided the defense establishment with only NIS 8.2b., to cover direct IDF expenses during the war.
The Brodet panel was charged with reviewing the defense budget and tailoring it to the needs of the IDF, taking all military and geopolitical factors into consideration.
The committee's mission was to establish a stable multi-year spending plan, but defense officials said the army needed a far bigger budget to prepare for the current and future threats facing the country.
"The Brodet Report recommends additions to the defense budget over the course of the next decade, a growth that will promise stability and security for defense undertakings. Obviously, not everything the defense establishment needs or demands can be done in one year," said officials in the Prime Minister's Office following Sunday's tense seven-hour meeting.
The cabinet decided to allow the Treasury and the Defense Ministry to negotiate the ministry's budget themselves, as in previous years, and to ignore the committee's recommendations. The final decision on the budget rests with Olmert.
Barak said at the cabinet meeting he was surprised that part of the plan for building Israel's strength was being cut, in light of the strategic reality in the region.
Barak said it was necessary to build Israel's deterrent and its ability to win wars decisively.
A victory, Barak said, needed to be "clear, swift and decisive on enemy territory."
To achieve this, Barak said, Israel needed an active and multilayered antimissile system. He said that in five to seven years it would be possible to develop a system that would prevent missiles from reaching Israel, an objective worth investing in despite the enormous cost.
He also said the army needed to be expanded by two divisions to improve its flexibility. He also said the IDF's manpower was less then half of what it was in the past.
Barak also sought an increased budget for IDF training and for units operating far from Israel's borders.
During the cabinet meeting, Barak spoke at length about changes Ashkenazi had implemented in the army over the last six months, and said it was important for the state to give Ashkenazi and his General Staff the tools to continue with them.
Olmert, meanwhile, rejected arguments by Barak and the defense establishment that the failures of the Second Lebanon War were due to budgetary problems, saying these claims were "exaggerated."
"It's ludicrous to think that an entire country will stop all its welfare and education projects so that the defense establishment can have all it demands. We must prioritize so that the war on poverty and unemployment doesn't falter," the Prime Minister's Office said.