After months-long disagreement, Smotrich, Gallant agree to establish committee to examine defense spending

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, left, talks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a discussion and vote on the state budget at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, left, talks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a discussion and vote on the state budget at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following an extended battle with the defense establishment, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announces he has reached an agreement with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to establish a public committee to examine defense spending.

In a statement, Smotrich welcomes the move, which he says comes after the Defense Ministry and IDF refused to honor an agreement to create such a body. According to Smotrich, the committee is to be comprised of two members representing the prime minister, two representing the defense minister and two representing him.

Their meetings will be “regularly attended” by representatives of the army and relevant ministries, as well as the Bank of Israel, National Economic Council and National Security Council, the statement says.

“Establishing the committee to examine the defense budget is an important step for the economy and security,” says Smotrich, arguing that the events of October 7 and the subsequent war have “undermined many of the basic assumptions” behind military spending.

Smotrich and Gallant have engaged in a public battle over the defense budget, with Gallant slamming his fellow cabinet minister earlier this month for continuing to delay approving the purchase of two fighter jet squadrons for the Israeli Air Force amid the war.

In April, Ynet reported that Smotrich decided to veto the approval of the procurement of new F-15 and F-35 jets until a committee tasked with looking at the defense budget was convened.

Smotrich said at the time that he wouldn’t approve “strategic and long-term future force build-up” until after the committee publishes recommendations on the defense budget, claiming that “doing the same thing over and over again without learning from past mistakes will bring us a disaster.”

On Tuesday, the Israel Hayom daily reported that the ongoing budget battle had prevented the transfer of almost $1.7 billion in funds needed for the ongoing war in Gaza.

Smotrich called the report “fake news.” Both the IDF and Gallant’s office declined to comment.

In addition to his battle over defense spending, Smotrich has also spoken out against the promotion of senior officers during wartime, arguing that the current military leadership does not have a “mandate to design the new and reformed IDF.”

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