Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense chairman MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), who is bidding for his party's leadership, accuses Ministry of Defense officials of making cynical use of the Merkava tank in their ongoing fight against the Ministry of Finance over the defense budget cut.
Yesterday, Mofaz appeared before the Manufacturers Association of Israel, and was briefed by its president, Zvi Oren, about the issues on the manufacturers' agenda. Oren told Mofaz about his concerns that the Merkava tank program might be terminated, which would harm 200 enterprises in the periphery whose survival depends on orders of components for the project.
"The program won't be closed," said Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff. "Regrettably, there are officials and functionaries who are making cynical use of the tank, and are threatening to halt the program's continuance, but in fact, it cannot be stopped. The program can be rescheduled, other targets can be set for it, but it's impossible to completely stop it because Israel needs an armored platform that can undertake ground missions in our region. The only vehicle that can do this is the Merkava Mark IV tank."
As "Globes" reported last week, the Ministry of Defense stopped orders for components used in the production of the Merkava four months ago. At the same time, the ministry is considering terminating contracts with enterprises that previously received orders until the future of the Merkava program is decided.
Oren says that this creates uncertainty among many enterprises, which have already fired hundreds of employees. He said, "There is panic among manufacturers," and asked for Mofaz's urgent intervention.
Mofaz said that he would convene the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for an urgent meeting within two weeks to discuss the Merkava, and that he would summon representatives from the Ministry of Defense and manufacturers to the meeting. "We will hear the position of the defense establishment, and if they have concerns about where the money will come from, I am prepared to tell them where it can be found. The defense budget for 2011 was the highest ever, and the 2012 budget is also very high. If we must, we'll summon the defense minister to give explanations. If we halt the Merkava program, we'll lose a lot of know-how, and I oppose that. The tank is essential," he said.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 6, 2012
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