Israel’s finance ministry has proposed slashing the country’s military budget by six percent, leading to warnings the cuts would harm the army’s operations and ability.
The treasury wants to cut $870m from the $14.5bn military budget, which swallows 17 percent of Israel’s total budget. The defence ministry in turn has said Israel’s security will be compromised unless its funding is increased.
Defence sources told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that the air force had halted many training flights over budgetary constraints – a move that some commentators dismissed as a scare tactic.
Earlier in May, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, citing funding issues, called off a major military drill.
“Delaying the drill is the first step on the way to an almost complete halt of military and defence training because of
budget constraints. This is not a game and we are not instilling fear,” a senior defence official said in the announcement.
Israel’s finance minister, Yair Lapid, has promised not to cater to defence ministry demands. “The equation is simple: any addition will come at the expense of the public,” he said.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party was carried to second place in the 2013 election on the wings of middle class uproar over high living costs.
“There is now an idea that security does not only mean defence budget. People understand that education and health and social services are security as well,” said Yesh Atid politician Ofer Shelah, who is a member of both the finance and foreign affairs and defence committees in the Israeli parliament.
“It is a growing debate that was once considered sacrilegious in Israel.”
“After several years of false alarms, the defence apparatus is now finding it hard to persuade the government that this time the wolf has really come to prey on the herd,” wrote Amos Harel, Haaretz newspaper’s defence analyst.
“The citizenry is not impressed by the generals’ threats.”
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a statement on Wednesday in which he urged both sides to stop bickering and hold “a substantive discussion” until he makes his decision in the coming weeks.
In past years the finance ministry has succeeded in cutting the defence budget, defence officials have requested more funds after the budget was approved.