Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz
Finance Minister Yuval SteinitzIsrael News photo: Flash 90

There is no need to increase the country's defense budget, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Monday - because Israel's Arab enemies are too disorganized and too broke to start a war.

Steinitz was speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday, which was discussing a request by the Defense Ministry for a further increase in its budget for the coming year.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been seeking to spend beyond the NIS 7-8 billion already allocated to his ministry, because of what he says are major defense problems and emergencies that Israel faces. Steinitz has said that he opposes increasing the budget, because the government needs any extra money it has to pay for social programs, in accordance with the recommendations made by the Trachtenberg Committee in response to protests for social justice over the summer.

Barak based his request on the conclusions of another government committee – the Brodet Committee, formed in the wake of the Second Lebanon War. That committee recommended increasing the defense budget by NIS 100 billion over a period of ten years. Steinitz said that the Defense Ministry's “raise” was already included in the upcoming budget, and that it is expected to deal with all security issues Israel faces from those funds. Exceeding the framework of the budget would be appropriate only in the event of a real national emergency, such as an invasion of Israel by a neighboring country – a very unlikely scenario over the next few years, Steinitz said.

“The Middle East is currently facing a major crisis,” Steinitz told the committee, referring to the various uprisings and revolutions in several Arab countries. “On the one hand there is more instability in the region, and a higher likelihood of terror because of the loss of control by governments. And we face the threats of missiles – nuclear and conventional – from Iran and Syria.

“On the other hand,” Steinitz continued, “there is no doubt that the Arab states around us are weaker, militarily and certainly economically, to the extent that their ability to enter into an arms race with us will be very limited over at least the next 5 to 10 years. Some of these countries are near bankruptcy,” Steinitz said, and as a result Israel did not need to overspend on defense needs, certainly not beyond what the Brodet Committee recommended to bring Israel's defense facilities up to par.