Cabinet expected to slash budgets to pay for Gaza conflict

Ministries, including education, face across-the board 2% reduction to help cover the NIS 9 billion bill for Operation Protective Edge

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Hatzor Israeli Air Force base on August 27, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Hatzor Israeli Air Force base on August 27, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

The cabinet was scheduled on Sunday to review a proposal for snipping ministry budgets, including nearly NIS 700 million from education, in order to help pay for the recent Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and Finance Minister Yair Lapid were to present the plan, which, if approved, would provide an immediate NIS 1.5 billion in cash toward covering the cost of the conflict, estimated by defense officials at around NIS 9 billion ($2.3 billion).

However, the Finance Ministry’s chief economist, Yoel Naveh, said called military establishment’s estimates for the cost of the conflict “exaggerated,” Israel Radio reported.

The plan calls to cut 2 percent from all ministry budgets except for Defense.

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).

The measure is expected to easily pass the cabinet, which is meeting in a community outside Gaza as a show of support with the south. However, it will still have to gain Knesset approval before being enacted.

According to Haaretz, the cuts will not affect salaries of civil servants, but will impact next year’s budget, which will be based on 2014’s reduced total.

Some ministers have already stated their objections.

Environment Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) and Housing and Construction Minister Uriel Ariel (Jewish Home) both oppose the plan, with Peretz arguing that the poorest sectors of Israeli society will suffer the most.

Peretz is reported to prefer raising taxes for high earners instead.

Ariel, whose ministry is likely to lose NIS 67 million ($19 million), sent a letter to the prime minister detailing his objections to the cuts, and in particular the influence it will have on budgets for the coming years.

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), Public Security Ministry NIS 51 million ($14.2 million), and the Health Ministry NIS 50 million ($14 million).

The money saved from the cuts is to be used to cover military expenses incurred during 50 days of fighting in Operation Protective Edge, and to help finance economic aid packages for the southern communities that suffered severe losses as rocket fire from Gaza drove away tourists, kept consumers off the streets, and crippled productivity.

The IDF launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in a bid to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel and to destroy a network of tunnels, dug under the border by Hamas and used to infiltrate Israel and carry out deadly attacks.

Gaza-based terrorists fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, some 735 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile defense system. Israel responded by with intense airstrikes on terror targets and later with a ground incursion into the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave. Over 80,000 reservist soldiers were called up during the five-week campaign.

Palestinian sources claim over 2,000 Gazans were killed in the fighting, while Israel says it killed over 750 terrorist combatants. Seventy-two people on the Israeli side died, including 66 IDF soldiers.

Last week Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to an open-ended ceasefire during Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo, with more talks on the full terms of the ceasefire to be held within a month.

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