What transpired at the cabinet session on Sunday regarding the defense budget was largely anticipated. "I ask that you approve the budget," the chief of staff said – namely, for the time being he is simply asking.
However, restraint is not one of the attributes of a military leader and the threats quickly followed suit, "I am warning you, if the budget is not approved the responsibility will fall on you." And if the budget is approved, whose responsibility will it be?
In a normal country the chief of staff is allocated a budget and acts accordingly.
In a normal country the responsibility always falls on elected officials rather than appointed officials (I know that it is difficult for the chief of staff to internalize the fact that he is an appointed official and not an absolute ruler elected by the legions.)
In a normal country an implied threat of this type would have led to his ousting or to a harsh admonition.
Not in Israel. In Israel, the IDF views the government as a band of wretched and spineless bureaucrats whose patriotic role is to approve more and more budgets. What about enhancing efficiency? Preventing waste? And national priorities? And the Brodet report, which determined that for years the army has been shamelessly and unhesitatingly pulling the wool over the eyes of civilian authorities. Mum's the word.
The defense minister demanded that vast additional resources be allocated (it should be recalled that in a moment of spiritual uplifting following the grand victory in the war, the IDF demanded an additional budget of NIS 30 billion with the same level of self-conviction).
And why, maintains Barak, do we require a substantial addition to the defense budget? "So that the victory in a future war, if it breaks out, will be decisive, swift and achieved in enemy territory."
The next war is already here. The question is only whether the inevitable victory will be decisive, swift and on enemy territory. After all, you wouldn't want Barak's failures as a statesman to also be added to a war that wasn't won, or God forbid peace.
Surprisingly, government officials refused to surrender to the threats. What a scandal. The IDF demanded, the lion roared, and the government did not approve (namely, it approved, what else? But less than what the army asked for.) Shocked and confused, Barak's associates came out of their holes to see for themselves what the defense establishment was up to.
Following the meeting, Barak's associates noted that "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert got caught up in a small political game, while the defense minister himself took care of the State of Israel's basic national interests." According to a Barak associate "we didn't plan to get involved in a dispute, but that's what ultimately happened, because Ehud Olmert chose to play a political game."
He who dares to say nay to the defense establishment is a politician. More accurately, he is striving to undermine basic national interests that are represented loyally, with love of the homeland and without any political interests, by Lieutenant-Generals Ashkenazi and Barak (res.).
But there is not only lofty love of the homeland and contemptuous interest here, but rather, clear differences in stature: Olmert didn't get involved in a political game for nothing, but rather, in a "small" political game.
This is how close associates summed up the game: "You should have seen senior ministers Shaul Mofaz, Avi Dichter, Eli Yishai and others who carefully listened to the defense minister in order to understand to what extent Ehud Olmert's position actually won." Namely, the way we won in Lebanon, or rather, how we "actually" won.
Barak's associates also added that "the prime minister left the game with the lower hand while the defense minister had the upper hand."
How fortunate we are to have close associates to explain matters to us. How good it is to be close to the powers that be. The problem with us, those removed from the top, is that we do not always see the basic national interests through military eyes.
Sometimes we wonder whether the IDF shouldn't be a little more modest, a little more frugal, with a little less budgetary demands and a little more wisdom. But on the other hand, who are we, what do we know?