Speaking on board the INS Lahav while accompanying the outgoing Navy commander on his final sail, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that despite his support for the social protests in Israel, he would not agree to defense budget cuts.
"We must remember that security-wise we don't live in Switzerland or Finland. We are in a burning field, with everything that is happening in the states that surround us – Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Bahrain – and I'm not even mentioning Iran," he explained.
Nonetheless, the defense minister encouraged social reform, a contentious issue some say has been blown out of proportion by Israel's media.
"The protests include important demands for narrowing the gaps while introducing a new discourse. Leaders of the struggle are the main backbone of Israeli society," Barak said. Prime Minister Netanyahu has set up a committee of economic and social welare experts, academics and government representatives to come up with ideas to meet some of the protest demands.
"They are the ones who, in times of emergency, will fold up the tents and enlist. We need a determined and immediate change in internal priorities."
The defense minister added that he believes all sectors of society – including the haredim and the Arab-Israelis – "should be part of the solution and not the problem".
Barak also answered questions about the Palestinian Authority bid for statehood at the United Nations in September and concerns that a third intifada will erupt.
"You can never prepare for every scenario," Barak told reporters. "But our preparations have been very thorough and very comprehensive. A great investment of time and resources has been made emphasizing training, and very broad coordination with the police and the security services."
Barak added. "In addition, I spoke with the Palestinian leadership, with Abu Mazen and with Fayyad, and insisted they need to act responsibly and get a handle on anticipated events. I hope we'll know how to deal with anything that transpires. We have good people, responsible people, in every command."
Barak also addressed the Palmer report on the 2010 Gaza Flotilla saying the report benefits Israel in determining that the naval blockade is legal and that the IDF raid was legal, but that "there are a number of problematic conclusions for us."