The ministers convene, listen to the generals' briefings and presentations on regional changes, the collapse of regimes in the Middle East, on building up forces, on all the different scenarios, and the training plans. When all is said and done, we are surrounded by a lot of Arabs who want to kill us all with machetes, poison gas, axes and stones, nuclear bombs, or just conventional bombs. The military men are right, just as the Ministry of Finance officials are right when they wonder just how a "negligible" cut of NIS 3-4 billion out of a NIS 60 billion budget will crack the high walls of the fortress in the jungle.
Why should this come at the expense of the training of IDF reservists for the third Lebanon war, or the next campaign in Gaza? Is there really no alternative to halting orders from companies with thousands of employees in the periphery whose sole lifeline is to the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv? The question that the Ministry of Finance officials ask, and the defense officials must deign to answer, is: if maintaining the skills of the IDF, defense procurements, keeping orders to defense contractors flowing, and keeping weapons development programs going costs NIS 3-4 billion - what happens to all the rest? Where are the other tens of billions of shekels? And all this is before we even mention the annual gift Israel gets from Uncle Sam.
The "critical debate" on the defense cut is an exhausting annual ritual, a well-preserved tradition which perpetuates the built-in tension between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense, between the tough generals and the sophisticated Treasury boys.
Yuval Steinitz, when he was finance minister, and Ehud Barak, when he was defense minister, made the festival of fear more sophisticated, with their ability to wrestle in the mud. When the battle was over, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, the defense budget continued to be an insoluble mystery, the Arabs continued to hate all of us, and we continued to pay heavily for the right to live between the thick walls that surrounded our confused fortress.
When Minister of Finance Yair Lapid took office, he declared that he would not be tempted by this mud-wrestling. As of now, the disputes between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defense are fought in the sterile terms that he wants. However, one source talking about the discussions so far, kept repeating the word "for the time being." Ultimately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is certain to cut a few billions from the defense budget, well aware that last night 12,000 aggrieved Israelis filled the streets of Tel Aviv hoping to breathe new life into the social protest movement. Even the defense establishment heads concede that an annual budget of NIS 60 billion can be cut and claims that not a shekel can be spared are not serious. So cut something. Maybe not NIS 4 billion, but they will agree to NIS 2 billion, or even NIS 2.5 billion.
But then in two months, or perhaps three or four, the Knesset Finance Committee will be asked to approve a special allocation of NIS 500 million for the defense ministry. We won't get many details, because somebody will say that it is classified and someone else will explain that it is for an important operation in Gaza that was not included in the main defense budget. Such things have happened before, and will happen again.
So here is the great bluff in all its beauty. What was will be. According to the Ministry of Finance, last year, a defense budget of NIS 55.6 billion was planned, but in practice the actual budget was 11% higher. These differences of 6-10% have occurred in every defense budget since 2006. Villas in the jungle are expensive to maintain.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 12, 2013
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