A key missile defense system set to come online in the coming year could face the chopping block if the army isn’t allocated enough money, Israel’s defense chief warned Tuesday, as tensions over military funding hit a fever pitch.
The statement by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon came a day after IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said he was canceling army reserve training for the rest of the year due to budget cuts.
Speaking during a visit to the Palmachim air base, Ya’alon stated that in light of cuts to the Defense Ministry’s budget, the IDF may halt plans to deploy the David’s Sling anti-missile system, which is designed to intercept medium-to long-range rockets and cruise missiles fired at ranges from 40 to 300 kilometers (25-80 miles).
David’s Sling, sometimes referred to as Magic Wand, is being jointly developed by the Israeli defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the American defense contractor Raytheon. It was expected to enter operational service in late 2014.
The comments came as the Defense Ministry has been warning of budget shortfalls which will affect its ability to operate. The Finance Ministry, however, has said it will not increase the amount it doles to the army.
Ya’alon said that though last year he believed budget cuts were necessary in order to deal with the country’s economic crisis, he has recently found that Israel was financially stable and thinks there is no reason to risk the country’s security by cutting back on IDF funding, Israel Radio reported.
Ya’alon’s remarks were apparently given as a reply to accusations that he had managed the IDF’s budget in a wasteful manner over the past three years.
On Tuesday, former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz claimed Ya’alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the entire security cabinet were all responsible for the IDF’s current financial state, as they had failed to agree upon a multi-year budget plan, Israel Radio reported.
During a session at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier Tuesday, Gantz said he was “extremely worried” over the proposed budget cuts, since the IDF must “ensure its level of readiness” for a long period of time.
Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin later criticized Gantz for attempting to alter government policy and decisions.
“You can’t stretch the blanket in every direction,” Elkin told Gantz.
“You should not be part of the argument, but [instead] do what you can with the tools the government has placed at your disposal.”
On Sunday, Gantz said he had canceled reserve training for the rest of the year because of cuts to the defense budget.
“We are dealing with a complicated resource challenge, the likes of which we have not seen before, and which could have dramatic consequences for the future… These days we are forced to make painful decisions which affect all areas — reserves and standing army, training in the field and operations in the rear,” he said.
Last week, a senior military official, speaking anonymously, told Channel 10 that the army had run out of money and needed “billions of shekels within days in order to continue to operate.”
He noted that the military had cut armored units and fighter jet squadrons and fired a thousand people in under three months, but said that was still not enough to counter the lack of cash.
Also last week, Deputy Finance Minister Miki Levy (Yesh Atid) warned that the Defense Ministry would not see its budget increased, despite the news Friday that Ya’alon and Gantz had decided to cancel a major upcoming national preparedness exercise in light of the ongoing budgetary dispute.
Levy accused the defense establishment of mismanaging the budget and urged defense officials to “sit down and prioritize.”
Ya’alon last Wednesday described the fiscal state of the country’s defenses as a “crisis,” and criticized the Finance Ministry’s conduct in apportioning funds.
“We are in a crisis; this is a fatal blow to training,” he told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “We are going to decrease the level of air, sea, and land training even further, and preparedness, readiness and competence will suffer.
“Starting next month we will be forced to enter a difficult period. This is a harsh blow to the competency of the regular fighters, not to mention the reserves,” he said.
Last 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 argued that the cuts would actually amount to NIS 7.4 billion ($2.1 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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.