IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz announced Monday that operational activity for reserve forces would be canceled for the remainder of the year in a move intended to save the army hundreds of millions of shekels in light of cuts in the defense budget.
The decision is to be implemented immediately, and the call-up orders of four reservist battalions that were slated to report in the next two weeks were rescinded.
Operational activity that reservists were scheduled to perform will instead be handled by regular forces. Units from the standing army are much cheaper to deploy than are reserve units.
The decision comes after the government approved major defense cuts, part of a series of austerity measures in the 2013-2014 budget designed to address Israel’s NIS 39-billion deficit. The budget includes 2-percent cuts for all ministries in 2013, excluding Defense, Education and Welfare. The number will rise to 3% in 2014.
In May, Netanyahu’s political-security cabinet approved his proposal to trim NIS 3 billion from the defense budget. The Finance Ministry had initially asked for a NIS 4-billion defense cut.
Training will also be cut back significantly. Infantry and armored reserve formations will enjoy budgetary priority and will continue to train, whereas other combat reserve units will only perform basic exercises.
The cuts will also be felt in active-duty formations. Training for combat engineering, artillery, and Home Front units will be scaled back dramatically. In addition, all scheduled General Staff training exercises will be cancelled.
Brig.-Gen. Hoshea Friedman Ben Shalom, the IDF’s chief reserve officer, warned that “the next year will challenge us greatly.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the defense establishment would have to contribute to lowering the deficit. “We are standing before a difficult year-and-a-half, 2013-2014,” he said, “and we will need to operate according to the budgetary constraints in light of the deficit that has accumulated in recent years.”
Educational, cultural, and recreational activities in the IDF will also be minimized.
More cuts are expected in the coming years. Reserve brigades will likely be closed, and thousands of career officers will be laid off.
Last Thursday, Gantz said the army would have to adapt to changing financial constraints. “Because of budgetary cuts,” he said, “we will have to change the way we maintain our skills and our readiness in the reserves. It is important you know that, going forward, despite the difficulties in the budget, we will maintain our skills.”
At the same event, Ya’alon promised that the IDF was ready to accept budgetary cuts, “but we do this with a heavy heart and great concern, given the complicated security reality facing us.”
“In the near future,” he added, ”we will be forced to carry out meaningful reductions in the amount of training, to cut positions, and even close units. Despite this, we will do everything we can to minimize the impact on our combat readiness.”