Israel weighs massive increase
in defense budget

Monday, August 28, 2006

JERUSALEM The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is considering a huge increase in the defense budget.

Under a proposal relayed to Olmert and senior ministers, the defense budget would be increased by 30 billion shekels, or $6.8 billion, over the next three years. The current annual military budget is $7.7 billion.

Most of the additional funding would be used to purchase weapons, platforms and supplies to sustain a conventional war with such adversaries as Hizbullah, Iran and Syria, Middle East Newsline reported.

On Sunday, Olmert Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson agreed to decide on the proposed budget increase by Sept. 4. The military request came in wake of the 33-day war with Hizbullah, which pointed to serious deficiencies in supplies, munitions and armor.

On Monday, a senior Israeli minister became the first Cabinet member to openly blame Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz for the military's failure to defeat Hizbullah. Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Halutz failed to properly plan and direct the war against the Iranian-sponsored militia.

"He who is at fault is the one who thought that this could be settled through air strikes," Ben-Eliezer said. "He who is at fault is the one that who ignored the need for a victory by the ground forces."

Under the military request, the 30 billion shekels would be spent mostly over the next two years. Officials said the funding would help repair main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and other platforms damaged during the Hizbullah war.

"A joint Finance Ministry-security establishment team would submit a report to Prime Minister Olmert by the end of the week regarding costs of the recent fighting in Lebanon in order to return the amount to the budget," a statement by the prime minister's office said. "A joint National Security Council-Defense Ministry-Finance Ministry team will be set up to formulate budget recommendations for 2007 in order to improve the military's preparedness and readiness to face future challenges."

Officials said the money would also launch major projects, including an anti-rocket defense system and electronic MBT protection system. They said the funding would also renew reservist training, suspended for much of the last three years.

On Sunday, Peretz met with senior officials on the feasibility of an anti-rocket system. The defense minister has directed the ministry to examine the U.S. laser prototype system, Sky Guard, produced by Northrop Grumman.

The military budget has been set at 34 billion shekels [$7.7 billion], with another $2.2 billion in annual U.S. military aid. But military officials said most of the budget has been allocated for salaries, benefits and maintenance.

On Sunday, a leading U.S. lawmaker said he would introduce legislation to increase U.S. aid to Israel. Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and No. 2 on the House International Relations Committee, said he would block $230 million in proposed U.S. aid to Lebanon until Beirut agrees to the deployment of international troops along the border with Syria.

"Lebanon will get help from both Europe, the Arab world and the United States," Lantos said. "Unless the United States provides some aid to Israel, Israel receives no aid."

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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