The Finance Ministry on Tuesday slammed Defense Minister Ehud Barak's calls to both increase Israel's defense budget and meet social protest organizer's demands, saying to do so would "enslave the State of Israel."
"The defense minister's proposal will enslave the State of Israel in a future of tremendous debt, and endanger its economic stability," a Finance Ministry statement read.
"One of the central principles which stabilized Israel is a policy of fiscal responsibility and preservation of budgetary limits. At the present time, in the face of the financial crisis in the US and Europe, Israel must preserve this economic policy," the statement added.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz added, “Israel dealt with the economic crisis and managed to return to growth thanks to the economic policy of the government and finance ministry, which emphasized budgetary discipline. Populist suggestions that we break with the budget are likely to lead to economic deterioration and to mass unemployment.
Barak, whose break-away Independence faction has yet to poll well enough to pass the threshold to be seated in the Knesset should elections be held, has sought to curry populist favor with protesters calling for socioeconomic reform by moving to meet their demands while also protecting his fief as defense minister.
"We will not succeed in filling the minimal demands for the State of Israel to responsibly take care of defense and the demands of the social protest and the world recession. There is no way to do this within the current budget," Barak stated. "I do not claim to be omniscient, but from what I understand, we should increase the budget."
"This brings complex security challenges and increases the threats that we recognize today: Hamas in Gaza, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Iran behind them," Barak added. "There can be situations in which the State of Israel will have to guard its interests on its own, without leaning necessarily on regional or other forces for help."
"Israel is the strongest state in the Middle East, from Tripoli to Tehran, including Tehran, and will continue to be so if we continue to be responsible," Barak added.
But defense industry observers note Barak's tenure as defense minister has been marked by his patronage of costly defense programs and acquisitions - such as the F-35 and major naval investitures - his chiefs of staff and senior officers have frequently argued are imprudent expenditures that have eroded Israel’s mainline war-fighting units [when the extant budget is considered -Ed.]
Many believe Barak’s move to increase the defense budget while throwing public monies at socioeconomic protesters is aimed at shepherding his pet programs while meeting both his generals' – and protesters' – demands in exchange for votes.