What can we do about the huge defense budget?

Every year, the government approves the defense budget without having the slightest conception of what the funds are actually being used for.

AN ARMORED IDF vehicle patrols a barrier along border with Egypt. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN ARMORED IDF vehicle patrols a barrier along border with Egypt.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Is it possible to explain the absurdity of Israel’s colossal defense budget without getting into the nitty- gritty of the numbers and percentages and complicated statistics? Let’s give it a try...
The winner of the game – otherwise known as allocating funds to the defense budget – is invariably determined ahead of time. Israel is a country in which the defense minister is almost always a former IDF chief of staff, every chief of staff considers himself a potential defense minister and no one really understands anything about security or budgets.
The entire game is played out between the offices of the chief of staff and the defense minister.
When it comes time for approving the defense budget, the prime minister is just a rubber stamp and the finance minister sits on the sidelines and cheers. We, the citizens, are not really interested in budget details and where the money ends up.
As long as we can live here peacefully, still have enough shekels to go out at night, travel overseas and continue complaining to our friends, we keep our mouths shut.
Here are a few interesting statistics: The defense budget makes up at least 17 percent of the state budget – one of the highest proportions in the world. And it’s been rising every year, despite all the politicians’ promises to make serious cuts and create a lean, mean fighting machine. Israel’s military budget is usually between NIS 45 billion and NIS 60b. a year, and in addition we receive more than $2.5b. in US military aid annually.
All the Arab countries in the immediate region together do not spend this amount on defense. There are only two countries in the region that spend such large amounts on defense: Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But these two countries are much wealthier than Israel, and they have large revenues from oil trade and tourism.
Every year, the government approves the defense budget without having the slightest conception of what the funds are actually being used for.
And every year the final amount approved is at least NIS 10b. higher than the originally proposed amount.
Every year the government says that it’s going to slash NIS 3b. from the defense budget, but then it goes back on its word, and even grants additional allocations during the year. Every year the military threatens to cease ongoing security training due to lack of funds and every year the defense minister capitulates and lets the military get away with this trick. Each year the IDF takes its well-oiled PR machine out and sends its vigorous lobbyists out to spar with the media in the Knesset in an effort to maintain the status quo.
For example, a year ago, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon voted for reducing the defense budget by NIS 3b. But just recently Ya’alon announced that the IDF cannot absorb such a drastic cut, and went so far as to request an increase over last year’s budget. The finance minister agreed to increase the defense budget because he has no idea what this money is actually being used for.
And neither does the public.
Even the budget proposal that was submitted to the cabinet for approval contains conflicting information about how much funding is going to each department, depending on which part of the proposal you’re looking at. The inconsistencies amount to NIS 8b! Israel uses almost 8 percent of its GDP for defense. We should not be surprised then to hear that the State of Israel has no money to invest in infrastructure, education, health and homeland security as other civilized countries around the world do.
The government ministers have a hard time withstanding the threats of war the IDF bombard them with.
Granted, we have signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and Syria does not have the time, money or capability to deal with us these days. And yes, Iran has been trying to appease us recently and the Palestinians have no real military force to speak of – it’s mostly the threat of terrorist organizations that we have to contend with.
The only real threat is missiles that could be fired into Israel by Hezbollah or Hamas. But our state of preparedness against these missiles is not boosted by these budget increases. And all the other areas from which funds are being withdrawn are being affected. The defense establishment knows exactly how to describe a future rife with intifada, and all-out war in which Israel will be targeted with thousands of missiles and Syrian soldiers on our border. Nobody in the government is willing to stand up against such colorful scare tactics and take responsibility if, heaven forbid, these projections were to come true and catch us unprepared.
In the meantime, the state doesn’t have money for the police and as a result crime on the streets is rampant.
Police salaries are at an alltime low and there’s no budget for police cars or basic equipment. The educational system is on the verge of collapse due to lack of funds despite the lofty plans to decrease the number of pupils in each class. The health system is imploding due to lack of funds and nurses and doctors do not always receive their full salaries.
Transportation and infrastructure lag decades behind the population growth. Taxes continue to rise, real estate prices are sky high and the national deficit gets bigger and bigger each year. We must suffer from all of the above just so we can keep our soldiers trained due to the immediate threat of annihilation.
Security will continue to be our main focus and largest recipient of public funding, and rightly so. However, without drastically changing our priorities, the situation in Israel will continue to deteriorate.
We might be safe from our enemies, but at some point there won’t be anything left of us to protect.
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.