The Committee to Evaluate the Defense Budget, headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker, recommends in its report released on Tuesday to freeze the defense budget to NIS 59 billion a year for the next five years, shorten compulsory military service to two years and cancelling early retirement for non-combatant career military personnel.
The full report will serve as a backdrop to discussions on the 2015-2016 budget, which is due to pass by the end of the month.
The committee recommends that the defense budget for the next five years be fixed to the sum of NIS 59 billion before CPI linkage, including the cost of funding all of the Defense Ministry's tasks, except for the move of IDF bases to the Negev.
It also recommends that the amount of the budget be enacted in legislation, and that it could be changed only in the event of war or recession.
This is an increase of the defense budget over last year by about NIS 6 billion, but since the committee recommends keeping the budget in place for five years, adopting the recommendations would actually make the budget lower than what the defense establishment is demanding – NIS 62 billion in 2016 alone, with further increases annually.
Locker also recommends shortening compulsory military service for both men and women to only two years (instead of the current two years and 8 months) by 2020. This follows similar recommendations made in 2006.
"Shortening the service will bring social and economic benefits without harming state security," the report notes. "A wise implementation will bring about profound changes to the labor market, due to the entrance of young people into higher education, and as a byproduct to economic growth."
The IDF has already submitted a counter-proposal to shorten service to two years and three months by 2023.
The committee recommended that the IDF reduce its manpower by a further 11 percent, in addition to the planned reduction in the army's 5-year efficiency plan revealed on Monday. This means some 2,000 additional career officers will be dismissed. In total, the committee recommends that the army reduces its expenses on manpower by some 86 percent until 2017.
The committee's recommendations proved immediately controversial. "The Locker report is a superficial, radically unbalanced report and is totally disconnected from the reality surrounding Israel and within it," said Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
"The report, if implemented, will be a gamble on the security of Israel's citizens. The idea of shortening compulsory service to two years results from a total misunderstanding of the military," continued Ya'alon.
"Those who wish to deal successfully, as we have until now, with ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and dozens more uncontrolled terror organizations armed with advanced weapons – cannot allow themselves to build a mediocre military with mediocre people. Unfortunately, the Locker report is leading Israel and its citizens to exactly that place."
In contrast, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called on the government to adopt the recommendations.
Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett also supported the report, calling it "a brave report for a brave military".
Cancel early retirement to non-combatant officers
An additional measure to reduce the defense budget is by canceling early retirement, a recommendation that caused a lot of anger in the defense establishment. At present, every career officer has the option to retire at the age of 47 and receive a retirement grant, this despite the fact the official retirement age is 67 for men and 62 for women. The Locker committee recommends returning the retirement age to 42, while providing the option to retire at the age of 36 with increased compensation to those who were not made lieutenant colonel by that age.
Meanwhile, the committee recommends that early retirement is given only to officers who served in combat positions throughout their military service. The cancelation of early retirement will apply only to those under the age of 37. The rest of the retirees will receive a one-time grant, expected to be around NIS 700-900 thousand on average.
The committee believes that the defense establishment can generate additional resources for itself, beyond the budget it is given, amounting to NIS 9.6 billion in the next five years through increased efficiency. In order to prevent the common spectacle of the IDF announcing it is stopping training due to lack of funds, the committee recommends that the army determines the budget for training in advance and not use the money for other purposes.
Locker also urged the government to implement the recommendations of the Goren Committee, which sought to revolutionize the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Department and the criteria for defining IDF Disabled Veterans.
The Committee to Evaluate the Defense Budget, headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yohanan Locker - who previously served as the Prime Minister's Military Secretary, was formed in May 2014 by Prime Minister Netanyahu pursuant to a Security Cabinet decision. In its letter of appointment, the Prime Minister instructed the committee to evaluate the desired size of the security budget in light of socio-economic needs and a series of other issues. The committee was also given the authority to deal with any subject relevant to the security budget.
The committee worked over the past year, chaired by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Locker; its other members were Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Ami Shafran, Police Commander (ret.) Esther Dominisini, Yossi Ackerman, David Baruch, Anat Levine, Prof. Rivka Carmi and Prof. Bentzi Zilberfarb and Dr. Shuki Friedman (secretary).
A senior defense official slammed the report, calling it a "great missed opportunity" and criticizing the recommendation to freeze the defense budget at NIS 59 billion a year for the next five years.
The official said setting a fixed budget would lead to monthly clashes between defense and treasury officials over requests for additional budgets.