Minister of Defense Ehud Barak is Barak, Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz is Steinitz, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is Netanyahu. Fear is fear and arrogance is arrogance. In other words: there is no chance of a cut in the defense budget.
Barak, the well-known swordsman will attack - the first round will be on Wednesday - and, as the head of the army, for the umpteenth time, he will make a presentation about the threats to Israel.
Steinitz, who is torn between his defense and economic leanings, and despite the heavy budget pressures, will fall silent in the face of a sophisticated colorful animation PowerPoint presentation about the missile deployment by Hizbullah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, the effect of an Iranian nuclear bomb soon to be in the hands of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the clouds of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical and biological weapons. And I have not yet even mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, now in control in Egypt.
Netanyahu will do what all his predecessors have done, whether from the left, right or center, from Ehud Olmert through Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, to Menachem Begin. He will wipe the sweat from his brow, say a few prepared dramatic remarks, and will not dare to cut the defense budget.
The Israeli prime minister has not yet been born who does not know from personal experience, that the defense establishment does not manage its money and does not care about the public's money. It is full of fat, black holes, indifference, waste, and hedonism (do not jump to conclusions: I'm not talking about the combat troops, who are the darlings of Israel), which come at the expense of weapons procurements, not to mention health, education and welfare. The prime minister has not yet been born who has dared to make a real cut in the defense budget (the Rabin government cut it by NIS 1 billion, which was more than rescinded within a year).
The prime minister has not yet been born who can withstand the unrestrained mental and physical torture by the defense chiefs. The moment that a defense cut is broached, starvation breaks out at IDF bases, there is no money for water, jet fuel runs out, the Iron Dome anti-missile program is bankrupt, tanks are deployed in line, pilots are fired, pensioners wail, and flack jackets for the troops cannot keep the enemy's bullets out (it is possible to think that the Ministry of Defense bought them only when the budget cut was announced).
No Israeli prime minister has ever been ousted over poverty, unemployment, a housing shortage, failing students, or lethal road accidents. Prime ministers and defense ministers are thrown out and damned in the history books because of failure in war. The defense establishment knows this, and therefore uses the ultimate threat: cutting the budget means defeat in the next war. The prime ministers know this and that is why they surrender.
Netanyahu has already surrendered. He surrendered to the defense threat when he adopted the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations, but did not adopt, as his signature required, the sources to finance the recommendations: a NIS 3 billion cut in the defense budget. He surrendered again on Sunday, when he told the cabinet that all threats against the home front are dwarfed by a nuclear Iran.
Israel will undergo a storm of multiple and contradictory threats in the coming months. Netanyahu's aides will say, imply, and make threats about a nuclear Iran. The people who dislike Netanyahu, either because of political disagreements, or because they lost a lot of money because of him, or because he failed to secure them a position because companies went bust, will burn up the summer with descriptions of catastrophe that he will bring down upon us. The argument over the defense budget will be a full part of this. That is why, when we repeatedly hear the well-worn phrase "a painful cut to the flesh" it will be no more than a slogan intended to put already tense nerves on edge.
It is possible to make big cuts to the defense budget, but it won't happen so long as this depends on a decision by the defense establishment to streamline itself. We may begin to draw closer to this in a couple of years, when the transparency and oversight imposed on the defense establishment a few months ago comes into effect. It will be a long, convoluted process filled with pitfalls and resistance. Only when it is possible to accurately mark where the unnecessary fat lies will it be possible to cut.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 13, 2012
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