Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have been off in China when Finance Minister Yair Lapid released his budget plan without waiting for his return, but he demonstrated on Monday that he hasn’t given over the reigns of government yet, as he decided that Lapid’s proposed 4 billion shekel cut in the defense budget would be only 3 billion.
“Today I will ask the cabinet and government to approve a moderated cut that will not come at the public’s expense,” Netanyahu said at the opening of Monday’s cabinet meeting.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said the remaining billion will be taken from Treasury reserves, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The decision came after a security cabinet meeting that lasted all through the day and well into the night on Sunday.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said it was more of a question fo how many years the cuts would be spread out, but he worried about the repercussions for workers in the defense industry.
“I am concerned that defense industry workers will be sacrificed, because it is much easier to cut from acquisitions than from the IDF itself,” Danon told the Post.. “The defense [representative] offices abroad cost a small amount. That is not where the big cuts will come from.”
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett supported the decision:
“Nobody thinks there isn’t fat to cut from the Defense Ministry,” Bennett said at a Knesset Finance Committee Meeting on Monday morning. “I know the threats against Israel are real threats, but for 65 years Israel has been under threat — first it was [Egyptian president Gamal Abdel] Nasser, then Saddam Hussein, then [Hizbullah chief Hassan] Nasrallah,” he said.
Finance, International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, made the point more emphatically.
“Not only is there room to make cuts from the security budget, but in fact there’s no choice,” Steinitz said in an Army Radio interview. “Syria, Israel’s strongest traditional military rival in the Middle East, is going through a very difficult time, and is less of a threat than in the past.”
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), also on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee, said that a downsizing of the defense budget is one of the few things for which Lapid could be commended since taking office.
“Now, the prime minister comes and says he’ll back Lapid in all of his actions against the middle class and weaker populations, but will re-examine the defense budget cuts,” Cabel said, adding that rescinding the defense cuts would “add to the great harm to all of us.” He called on Netanyahu to allow the cuts to stand.
Also on Monday, the Knesset decided to cut its spending by 20 million shekels this year.
The Knesset canceled a renovation of its three cafeterias, in which all the equipment used to cook for and serve ministers, MKs and visitors were going to be replaced.
The cuts are not expected to cause lay-offs, but planned hiring of new workers will be postponed.
Late Monday, a disclosure about the Prime Minister’s Residence expenses was sure to add even more heat to the budget debate. Its budget grew by 80% from 2009-2012, now running at about 3.29 million shekels ($920,000), compared to 1.8 million ($504,000) in 2008.
Expenditures on wardrobe, makeup and hair treatments nearly doubled from 33,000 shekels to 64,000 ($9,200 to $18,000) during the same years, Ynet reported.
The information was made public following a legal petition filed by The Movement for Freedom of Information.