Ministers to debate deep cuts to defense spending
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Ministers to debate deep cuts to defense spending

Defense officials to warn Cabinet against slashing billions from the budget in an increasingly volatile Middle East

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

The Namer armored personnel carrier (photo credit: CC BY-SA Abir Sultan, Flickr)
The Namer armored personnel carrier (photo credit: CC BY-SA Abir Sultan, Flickr)

Hours after 10,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv to protest proposed tax hikes, the Cabinet was set on Sunday to debate the scaled back budget, focusing on a series of cuts aimed at curbing the burgeoning deficit – including a massive slash in defense spending.

But it isn’t expected to be an easy sell for embattled Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch proponent of safeguarding Israel’s right – and ability — to defend itself, by itself, has already hinted that, notwithstanding his overall satisfaction with Lapid’s budget proposal, he may tinker with some of the clauses pertaining to the Defense Ministry and the IDF.

The army, for its part, won’t bear the full brunt of budget cuts without a fight. After the Cabinet ministers assemble at the Prime Minister’s Office, they’ll hear briefings by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz and his deputy, and the head of the army’s Planning Directorate, Nimrod Shefer.

Those briefings are expected to drive home a laundry list of security challenges faced by Israel, from Iran’s fast-progressing nuclear program to Syria’s 1,000-ton arsenal of chemical weapons to brewing unrest in the West Bank.

The treasury, which faces the daunting task of closing some of 2012’s NIS 39 billion ($11 billion) deficit, wishes to trim some NIS 6.5 billion ($2 billion) in government spending. If Lapid gets his way, NIS 4 billion ($1.12 billion) of that sum will come out of the Defense Ministry’s budget. According to the proposal, the army will be allocated NIS 51 billion ($14.29 billion) in 2013 and NIS 54.6 billion ($15.29 billion) in 2014.

In an Independence Day interview last month, Gantz warned that cutting the defense budget would limit the army’s ability to defend the country. Those comments came amid reports of cuts to the tune of NIS 3 billion ($840 million), a figure that has only grown since.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, before a cabinet meeting in November, 2012 (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/ GPO/ Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, before a cabinet meeting in November, 2012 (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/ GPO/ Flash 90)

One of the projects that will likely take a hit is the Namer armored personnel carrier, which is under construction in Lima, Ohio, and has already suffered due to sequestration in the US. Also on the chopping block are the army’s career soldiers, some of whom would be fired if the cuts go through. Others will likely see their pensions dramatically reduced.

According to Hebrew media reports over the weekend, the military has come to terms with the need to reduce spending to a certain degree, but will still aim to fend off any immediate impact on its operational capabilities. Thus, defense officials are expected to warn ministers that deep cuts will spell reduced training time for IDF soldiers and less cash for critical arms acquisitions in an increasingly dangerous Middle East.

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