Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called on the Finance Ministry to earmark NIS 3.3 billion for an increase in the defense budget, despite the economic crisis besetting Israel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, the extra money is for "funding routine IDF activities, [construction of the] Gaza border barrier, and other critical issues that cannot be delayed."
Netanyahu's directive came following a meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Israel Katz, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other senior government officials.
During the meeting, Netanyahu stressed the importance of allowing the defense establishment to maintain its stability given the many security challenges surrounding Israel.
In late 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began, the IDF sought an additional NIS 2 billion to its annual budget, to compensate for a series of wide cuts made at the time across all government ministries.
The cuts did not spare the Defense Ministry, and as a result external funding was found to implement various government decisions, such as a pay raise and pensions worth billions of shekels for police officers and prison wardens.
According to the IDF, the extra funding does not constitute an increase in its budget, but rather is the amount stipulated in a 2016 agreement between the then-defense and finance ministers.
It also abides by the provisions laid out in the IDF's multi-year Gideon Plan, developed in 2015 by then-IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and now in its final year, which calls for NIS 32 billion from the overall defense budget.
Netanyahu's directive is set to be met with stiff resistance from Finance Ministry officials, who are expected to demand that the increase come from the existing army budget, given that the national budget deficit had already increased by NIS 20 billion before the virus struck.