Merkava tank
Merkava tank Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Ministerial Committe for National Security Matters (Diplomacy-Security Cabinet) decided unanimously Thursday to transfer 2.75 billion shekels from the budget surplus to the defense establishment budget.

The decision was taken after the defense establishment asked for an increase in its budget after it carried out a series of streamlining steps. The Prime Minister's Office noted that the decision was originally made in May of this year.

"We have made a unanimous decision that balances between the large-scale security challenges that face Israel and the need to continue to responsibly steer Israel's economy in the face of the global crisis,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid said that the decision was made by the prime minister, although he – Lapid – opposed it during the debate that was held. “We still insist that the defense establishment become more efficient and handle itself responsibly,” he said. “We will not agree to let the middle class carry its share of the burden if the military does not do so too. I am glad that we were able t prevent the transfer of the entire sum that the defense establishment had asked for, because we need the 2.75 billion shekels for day care, health, education and steps that will bring down the cost of living in Israel.”

The cabinet ministers decided to establish a team under Prime Minister's Office Director Harel Locker, in order to speed up the transfer of IDF bases from central Israel, to free up land for construction in areas of high demand.

In addition, the ministers decided to establish a public committee that would examine the defense budget and all of its components.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said in recent days that the IDF had carried out a series of meaningful streamlining steps and that the defense budget cannot be cut any further. Gantz said thousands of members of the IDF's permanent professional corps (Tzva Keva) had been fired and that he would not allow any further harm to the rights of the Tzva Keva members. He said the streamlining in the IDF had been comprehensive and “unlike that of any other body in the market.”

Opposition Head MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) slammed the decision, saying, “As was anticipated, the Cabinet decided today, in effect, to cancel the cuts in the defense budget. It is a matter of great concern that a dramatic decision to add 2.75 billion shekels to the defense establishment was taken as a result of arm-twisting inside the government. This places a question mark over the way decisions are made in the Netanyahu government.”

"I call upon the prime minister to find additional billions in the 'budget reserves' for other existential needs of Israel's citizens including health, education, employment and welfare,” she added sarcastically.