Air force cancels all flight drills amid budget dispute

Air force cancels all flight drills amid budget dispute

Facing accusations of inefficiency, military has been petitioning government for a NIS 2.9 billion infusion

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

IAF pilots (photo credit: Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)
IAF pilots (photo credit: Tsahi Ben-Ami/Flash90)

In an unprecedented move, the Israeli Air Force announced Tuesday evening that it would cancel all flight drills for its pilots amid ongoing efforts on the military’s part to convince the state to allocate an additional NIS 2.9 billion ($830 million) to its budget.

The air force informed its squadron commanders that as of Sunday, all training flights, including drills for reserve soldiers, would be canceled. Flight school training wouldn’t be affected by the move.

The decision, backed by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, was part of a series of steps the defense establishment plans to take to brace for a shortfall, which generals say amounts to billions of shekels and, they warn, could have grave ramifications for Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Critics have been accusing the army, faced with the treasury’s demand that it streamline its operations, of scaling back essential training in order to pressure the government into acceding to its budgetary demands.

Other arms of the IDF were also preparing to take similar steps, with Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel, himself a reserves officer, warning that the budget allocated to the IDF for 2015 would not enable the army to “start the year.”

“We’ll have money for rehabilitation and retirement, because that is the law, but we won’t have money for defense,” Harel said.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset, May 20, 2014 (Photo credit: Flash 90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset, May 20, 2014 (Photo credit: Flash 90)

Last Monday, Gantz announced the cancellation of all reservist training through the end of 2014. He said the IDF’s woes constitute “a complicated resource challenge the likes of which we have never seen, and it could have dramatic consequences for the future.”

He warned, “These days we are forced to make painful decisions that affect all areas — reserves and standing army, training in the field and operations on the home front.”

Ya’alon, during a visit to the Palmachim Air Force base south of Tel Aviv last week, warned that the budget constraints would delay the deployment of David’s Sling, a key mid-range missile defense system being developed jointly with the United States.

The Finance Ministry has been insisting, loudly and repeatedly, that the IDF’s budgetary woes are the result of rampant waste and inefficiency, noting that the army had received multiple unplanned budget boosts in recent years. Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy flatly accused the defense establishment of mismanaging the budget and urged defense officials to “sit down and prioritize.”

Last week MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor), a retired IDF colonel, was suspended — he insists it was a joint decision that he was part of — for two months from the Knesset’s key Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee after leaking a letter he wrote to Ya’alon about the way the IDF requests funding from the Knesset.

In the letter, Bar-Lev expressed frustration at the army’s habit of requesting piecemeal, seemingly ever-changing budgets every few months, instead of a predictable, annual budget framework like other public institutions.

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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