The Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee convened Monday to discuss the defense budget and its place as one of Israel's national priorities.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have been locking horn on the matter for weeks: Steinitz told the committee that it was "high time that the defense budget be regulated," as it "makes up a huge chunk of Israel's national budget and has a significant impact on national priorities."
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The finance minister maintains that regulating the defense budget would benefit both Israel's democratic conduct, as well as the defense establishment.
"The Middle East is experiencing turbulent times, which naturally is a source for concern," Steinitz told the committee.
"We're seeing an increase in threats and volatility and than there's the unconventional threat from Iran and Syria; but on the other hand, the Arab nations around us – excluding Iran – have weakened financially and militarily and their ability to hold an arms race with Israel has decreased considerably – at least for the next five years."
FADC Chairman MK Shaul Mofaz lauded Steinitz' demand for transparency, but criticized that fact that "in the government, one hand doesn’t seem to know what the other hand is doing.
"The nation's budgetary and social problems demand we curb the defense (budget), but it is my impression that the PM and the defense minister have already agreed on an addition to the budget," he said.
Mofaz noted that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was aware of a request to add NIS 620 million (roughly $166 million) to the defense budget – in addition to the appropriation of NIS 1.2 billion ($320 million), which is still pending the FADC's approval.
"The prime minister and defense minister cannot be allowed to manage the defense budget behind your back," Mofaz chided Steinitz. "The defense establishment has one voice and the Treasury has another. This poses both credibility and transparency issues."
Steinitz further said that the proposed cuts to the defense budgets were "miniscule" compared to irregularities noted in it over the past few years.
"I once told Barak that he was the most costly defense minister in Israel's history," the finance minister said. "His defense establishment exceeds its budget by over NIS 20 million ($5.35 million)."