Netanyahu to boost, not cut, defense spending by NIS 1 billion

Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared victory on Tuesday after late-night negotiations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu led not only to the cancellation of plans to cut the defense budget, but to an additional NIS 1 billion for the IDF. The negotiations between the ministry and the Treasury ended at 3 a.m. Tuesday and were attended by Barak, Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. The Treasury had initially requested a NIS 3b. cut from the defense budget, which reaches close to NIS 52b. "I think that the prime minister and finance minister [Yuval Steinitz] made the right decision by coming our way," Barak said minutes before the cabinet convened to vote on the state budget. "The defense budget is needed to be able to effectively respond to the security challenges that I cannot go into details about." While the budget will not be cut, Barak said the IDF would continue with its in-house financial review, which is being conducted by McKinsey Corp. It is expected to save NIS 30 billion over the next 10 years. In the midst of discussions on career officers' pensions, a confrontation broke out between Netanyahu and Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi said that "the career officers are not contract employees. They don't work in the army. They serve the country. It's not right, it's not appropriate to harm their pension rights." To this, Netanyahu replied, "I am 60 years old, and Ehud Barak is planning to take part in the elections in 2018, and none of us is asking to get his pension. I do not accept what the chief of staff said. I greatly appreciate the officers, upon whose shoulders the foundations of the state's security lay, but there is no system that cannot become more efficient, and there is no contradiction here." Ashkenazi reportedly then angrily said: "Then don't accept it." But after agreeing with Steinitz on a plan to gradually raise the retirement age of the officers, Ashkenazi stepped into Netanyahu's office and apologized.