IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz requested an extra NIS 4.5 billion ($1.28 billion) for the defense budget at a cabinet debate on Wednesday afternoon, arguing that the army would have to cut training programs if it doesn’t receive the extra allotment from the Finance Ministry.
In May, the government set the IDF budget at NIS 51 billion ($14.5 billion). The military took a cut of NIS 3 billion from its 2014 budget, but is now arguing that the cuts will actually amount to NIS 7.4 billion due to factors beyond the IDF’s control, such as higher electricity costs and taxes, payments for injured soldiers and additional benefits for career soldiers due to the rising retirement age.
For its part, the IDF says it has done its part to live up to its end of the budget, making cuts to its workforce and, in June, halting operational activity for reservist units for the rest of this year.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, has come out on the military’s side in the debate.
“The treasury is exploiting the public mood, which can harm our career soldiers,” he said in a Knesset committee hearing Monday. “At the next hearing on the defense budget, the Treasury will require us to dismiss 4,500 career soldiers, and there won’t be a public outcry as there was when Teva [Pharmaceuticals] threatened to lay off 800 employees.”
The Finance Ministry contends, however, that Ya’alon initially supported the budget cuts, and that at the moment there is no excess fat to trim from the budget. Thus, Treasury officials say, any extra allotment to the military would have to come from the social services budget.
At a ceremony honoring Bedouin soldiers Tuesday, Gantz said that he would fight any attempts to cut the salaries or pensions of career soldiers.
“I will not under any circumstances harm the basic rights of career soldiers,” he said. “Any harm done to you, any defamatory remark directed toward you, harms Israel’s security.”
On Sunday, Ya’alon accused the FinanceMinistry of trying to renegotiate pensions and wages for career soldiers.
“I consider myself responsible for representing career soldiers,” Ya’alon said. “One of the Finance Ministry’s offers is ‘let’s manage the salaries and pensions.’ Can I abandon career soldiers’ fates to the [Finance Ministry's] hands?”
In August 2010, the two sides agreed to raise the salaries and pensions of career soldiers in line with the rise in retirement age, but that agreement has yet to be implemented.
The IDF criticized reports that depicted career soldiers living the good life, countering that 25 percent of career soldiers make less than the minimum wage.