IDF to get NIS 2.75 billion budget increase

After marathon meetings, finance and defense ministers agree on half the sought sum; cabinet calls for army spending review

Israeli tanks and soldiers take part in a large combined army drill, June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Tal Manor/IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Israeli tanks and soldiers take part in a large combined army drill, June 4, 2013. (photo credit: Tal Manor/IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

The standoff between the Finance and Defense ministries over the 2014 defense budget came to an end on Thursday with the security cabinet approving an infusion of NIS 2.75 billion ($780 million) for the defense establishment.

The cabinet was unanimous in its decision, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, noting that the cash for the budget increase would be drawn from a budget surplus.

The IDF had hoped to secure a NIS 4.5 billion ($1.28 billion) increase.

The cabinet also called for the establishment of a public committee to review the defense budget and for a team, led by PMO Director General Harel Locker, that would focus on pushing along the dismantlement of army bases in prime real estate areas so that the land could be used for construction projects.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sat down to discuss the budget before the cabinet meeting. The two ministers also held lengthy informal talks on Wednesday, joined at times by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. The talks were reportedly tense, as treasury and defense officials have been at odds over whether budgetary priority should be given to security or social services.

The cabinet was set to meet on the matter Wednesday, but postponed the planned discussion after Ya’alon and Lapid failed to come to consensus.

Lapid accused the Defense Ministry of presenting unrealistic doomsday scenarios to justify reversing or reducing its budget cuts. But defense officials said there was actually a budget surplus that was being kept secret, at the soldiers’ expense.

“The prime minister decided to add to the defense budget despite my objections to it in the debate,” Lapid said after the decision was announced Thursday. “We maintain that the security establishment needs to exercise financial responsibility and to be more efficient.”

Still, Lapid welcomed the fact that the defense establishment would not receive the full sum it had initially demanded, asserting that the cash would go toward “housing, health, education, and steps that will bring the down the cost of living in Israel.”

Reportedly, Netanyahu, who has been leaning toward the Defense Ministry’s position, may yet decide to transfer billions more to the army.

On Thursday the prime minister said, “We were unanimous in the decision to strike a balance between the State of Israel’s significant and large security challenges and the need to continue to exercise responsibility in navigating the Israeli economy through the global financial crisis.”

Ya’alon said that NIS 2.75 million would not cover the needs of the IDF and criticized the tone of the public discussion of the matter.

“During the debate on the budget, including the preceding days, various elements engaged in careless and irresponsible discourse that was political, false, and fundamentally cynical,” he said, “including a systematic and ugly campaign to delegitimize the community of commissioned members of the IDF, revealing details about their wages in a manipulative and twisted fashion that was intended to turn the public against them.”

On Tuesday Gantz, the chief of staff, requested an extra NIS 4.5 billion for the defense budget, arguing that the army would have to cut training programs if it didn’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 said 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.

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