The finance ministry and the army are waiting for the results of the September 17 elections, which will decide the next prime minister, defense minister and finance minister. But in recent months, apparently unwilling to wait any longer, treasury staff have met with senior IDF officials and presented demands which the new IDF chief of staff Aviv Kochavi had opposed in the past, Ha’aretz reported Tuesday.
The IDF also fears a delay in formulating the next multi-year budget plan, seeing as the finance ministry is already demanding that compulsory service for young Israelis be cut to two years and that bridging pensions subsidizing retired IDF career officers from age 45 to 67 be abolished.
For one thing, the treasury is also opposed to the army receiving an additional budget for its strike-by-strike campaign against Iran’s hostile efforts in Syria.
Both sides share the concern that the next appointed defense minister would inevitably be someone who did not participate in formulating whatever plan on which they would finally agree, which could delay its implementation or alter it irreparably.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the April 9 elections that he intended to increase the entire defense budget by 40 billion shekel ($11 billion) over a few years, to upgrade the IDF’s attack capabilities as well as Israel’s cyber network. At the same time, Netanyahu wants the army to make cuts worth 1.5 billion shekel ($416 million) a year for four years.
The finance ministry is demanding that Lieutenant General Kochavi cut down the compulsory service of men and women to two years. This, it says, would save Israel’s economy as much as 12 billion shekel ($3.325 billion) a year.
The IDF strongly opposes cutting down the service time, even as a finance ministry official has recently suggested that the annual number of recruits is expected to grow by at least 17,000 in the next few years, and complained: “even today I don’t know how I will offer them a meaningful service.”
The treasury understands the army’s opposition to the service cuts—rational and necessary as they may be—for fear of harming the model of the people’s army, “But these are perceptions that worked the past. This is not meaningful to the young population that’s not prepared to do three years of meaningless service.”
In general, the treasury is convinced the military is by far too expensive for the security value it offers, warning that “taking the defense budget a step forward means taking the growth of the State of Israel a step back.”
The IDF’s share in the overall budget is the highest among all Western countries, while Israel’s spending on education, health and welfare is dwarfed by comparison. It’s true that initially the IDF received only about $350 million more than education in next year’s budget, but by the end of the year, counting all the military’s incidentals, the true amount is likely to be far larger.
The finance ministry offered the IDF an option to sign up individuals with unique skills for what they termed a “four-month career service,” meaning they would be paid like career officers but without a career.
Finance is also troubled by the IDF’s incidental demands through the budget year. The IDF claims that its operations in Syria, along the Lebanese border, in the PA and in the Gaza Strip, require large quantities of advanced weaponry, extra flight hours, and the expansion of the air defense system – to the tune of a billion shekel ($277 million) in extra-budgetary annual spending since 2015. The IDF argues that it cannot cover these expenditure out of its regular allowance.