Slashing Israel’s defense budget would severely compromise the country’s security and lead it to “places that mustn’t be reached,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday. According to Israel Radio, Ya’alon said the government must do all it can to ensure that in a few years, Israelis do not look back in horror at the heavy price they paid due to lack of investment in defense.
Ya’alon asserted that cutting the military’s budget would make it impossible for Israel to maintain a skilled and trained army, equipped with first-class technology.
The question of how Israel’s fiscal policy should move forward has sparked fierce debate in Israel as the government looks for a way to cover increased defense spending after Operation Protective Edge. Politicians and officials have been sparring over how to cover the NIS 9 billion ($2.5 billion) cost of the 50-day military campaign against the Hamas terror group.
On Wednesday, Israel’s defense establishment requested a budget increase of NIS 20 billion (some $5.6 billion) through 2015, stating that aside from the NIS 9 billion required to cover the costs of the operation, an additional NIS 11 billion were needed for the establishment’s operational deployments in 2015.
The country’s top defense brass, including Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel, presented its demands to the security cabinet during its Wednesday meeting, the first since Operation Protective Edge ended with an open-ended truce, stating that in order to meet the objectives the government has set for them, including ensuring the security of southern Israel, the defense forces would require more funds.
Ahead of government discussions on the 2015 budget which are set to be held next Thursday, the Finance Ministry warned that if approved, the NIS 20 billion increase would have to be drawn from other budgets, such as the education, infrastructure, health and welfare budgets.
Last week, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug urged cabinet ministers not to attempt to solve the budget shortfall through deficit spending, warning that such a move may hurt an already struggling economy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to discuss the demands in separate meetings with Ya’alon and Finance Minister Yair Lapid in the coming days, with the prime minister expected to make a decision on the matter by the end of next week.
On Thursday, Lapid, despite comments from officials in his ministry complaining that the defense increase was exaggerated, said the additional funds were necessary to ensure the security of southern Israel and combat the threat of mortars and terror tunnels.
Earlier this week, the cabinet approved a proposal for slashing ministry budgets to help pay for the recent Gaza operation, the direct cost of which was estimated at NIS 9 billion (about $2.5 billion). The cabinet voted on Sunday to slash the budgets of all ministries — except defense — by 2 percent to make up some of the money, while Lapid has called for heavier borrowing instead of tax raises to cover the rest.
The Education Ministry, which faces the deepest cuts, is set to lose some NIS 695 million ($195 million), while the Transportation Ministry will find its budget trimmed by NIS 247 million ($69 million).
Among the other ministries facing budget reductions: the Social Affairs Ministry would lose NIS 63 million ($17.5 million), the Economy Ministry NIS 54 million ($15.1 million), the Public Security Ministry NIS 51 million ($14.2 million), and the Health Ministry NIS 50 million ($14 million).
Stuart Winer, Yifa Yaakov, Adiv Sterman and Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.