In his first meeting with the IDF General Staff and ahead of a Knesset vote this week on the 2006 state budget, Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed Monday to defend the defense establishment from planned cuts to the multibillion-dollar defense budget.
"I see myself as a defensive shield for the defense establishment in any public debate and particularly in a debate on the [defense] budget," Peretz told the generals, who have expressed concern the Labor Party chairman would support budget cuts. "I am first and foremost committed to the IDF and the defense establishment."
The way the defense budget was formulated, Peretz said, needed to be changed. "We need to demand [from the Treasury] that the budget no longer be just annual but be formulated according to a multi-year plan," he said.
Regarding plans to fire noncommissioned officers from the IDF, Peretz said he intended to protect their rights.
"IDF officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers all deserve to be treated with respect and not to be harmed," he said. "They also have families and children whose future needs to be taken into consideration."
As part of his continued education as the country's new civilian defense minister, Peretz was schedule on Tuesday to visit the Glilot Intelligence headquarters outside of Tel Aviv. He will also hold his first diplomatic meeting as defense minister and will meet with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store at the Defense Ministry later in the day.
In his meeting with the IDF General Staff, Peretz also weighed in on the continued threat of Kassam rockets to southern Israel.
On the same day eight rockets were fired at Israel, Peretz told the generals that he counted from his bed at home in Sderot the number of artillery shells IDF cannons fired back at launch sites in the northern Gaza Strip.
"Every night I count the number of shells," he said, adding that the Kassam rocket was a particularly difficult threat to deal with due to its primitiveness, compared to a suicide bomber who, he said, was more sophisticated than the most advanced cruise missile.