IDF: Slashing defense budget dangerous

Says cuts will damage maneuvers; Labor ministers rage over plans for state cuts.

bar on and olmert 298 ch (photo credit: Channel 10)
bar on and olmert 298 ch
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A senior IDF official said Sunday that plans to cut half a billion shekels from the defense budget would damage army maneuvers, reserve service days and the equipping of army forces, Israel Radio reported. The official added that, de facto, the defense budget also suffered similar cuts in 2007, despite the fact that the army was sorely in need of many billions of shekels. Sources in the finance ministry claimed that the defense budget actually grew in 2007, but the army responded that the said funds were either funneled to the home front or used to renew army inventory that had dwindled during the Second Lebanon War. Meanwhile, Labor Party ministers were threatening to vote against a 6-percent cut in the 2008 state budget unless the cabinet postpones the budget discussion slated for Sunday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and newly-appointed Finance Minister Roni Bar-On are hoping to bring the cuts to the cabinet for approval on Sunday. Labor ministers oppose the reductions, which they say would affect defense, education, and welfare spending. The Labor ministers will meet on Sunday morning to decide how to vote in the cabinet. "We have not yet had enough time to review the proposal in order to cast an informed vote. We are requesting that the vote be postponed," a Labor Party spokesman said. Labor's ministers said, however, that the larger issue was with Bar-On himself, whom they believe also lacks the information to make an informed decision on the budget. Bar-On is expected to begin the debate on the budget on Sunday, despite his lack of familiarity with the document. Bar-On's predecessor, Abraham Hirchson, who suspended himself two months ago due to allegations of fraud, presided over the compilation of most of the budget. Until last week, Olmert held the position, and work on the budget was handled by the ministry's director-general and other senior officials. "This document, possibly the most important document that the Knesset examines and passes each year, cannot be treated as an afterthought," said one Labor MK who has been involved in the budget debates. "The Labor Party will raise a big fuss regarding the budget this year, with MKs on the Finance Committee pushing the ministers to stand up for the socioeconomic platform we campaigned on." Kadima ministers said Olmert was pushing for the budget discussions to begin early this year, because he wanted to be the first prime minister in five years to pass a budget by the October 31 deadline. That deadline is usually extended by three months, making the effective date for passing the budget December 31. If it is not approved by then, spending is frozen at the previous year's budget, and if it is not passed by March 31, early elections are held.