Defense cuts would limit Israeli operations in Palestinian areas

Special to World
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel has acknowledged that an approved cut in the defense budget would affect the military's deployment and operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials said the planned 7 billion shekel cut in the Defense Ministry budget would reduce the Israel Defense Forces, prevent mobilization of the reserves and slash procurement of a range of protective systems for troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said the 7 billion shekel cut was scheduled to be implemented between 2003 and 2005.

The budget cuts were ordered to reduce the Defense Ministry budget to 32 billion shekels, or $7.2 billion, for fiscal 2004. The United States has pledged more than $2.2 billion, or more than 25 percent of the Israeli military budget, for the Jewish state in fiscal 2005.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he would be unable to ensure Israel's defense needs amid the cut. Mofaz said the military would dismiss 5,700 career soldiers and damage Israel's capability in the insurgency war against the Palestinian Authority.

"The size of the defense budget cut for 2004 does not allow the extent of security required by the military establishment to defend the people of Israel for both the short- and long-term," Mofaz said. "The cut is too harsh and can't be done in one year."

Mofaz said he would urge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to revise the approved defense cut for fiscal 2004. The defense minister told the committee that tax reform should be delayed to enable additional funds for the military. The military has asked the government for an additional 200 million shekels [$44 million] to protect Israeli communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The defense minister said the budget cut would primarily hurt the Israeli war against Palestinian insurgency groups. He said training of Israeli units and the mobilization of reserves have been drastically reduced over the past year.

Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset panel that the approved budget cut is unprecedented and would lead to a drastic decrease in Israeli security. The deputy chief called the decision to reduce 7 billion shekels from the budget "cataclysmal."

Ephraim Sneh, a chairman of a key defense subcommittee, agreed with Ashkenazi. Sneh said the defense budget cut would lead to a halt in Israel's Ofeq spy satellite program, Arrow-2 missile defense program, the dismissal of 1,000 employees of the defense industry and the retirement of one-third of platforms in Israel's military.

"There are other research and development projects that would represent a surprise for our adversaries in the future and they are also being closed," Sneh said.

The Knesset committee has summoned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the panel's subcommittee to discuss the defense budget cut. Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz has warned that the budget cut would hurt Israel's military's preparedness.

Last week, Israel and the United States discussed military aid to the Jewish state during the meeting by the U.S.-Israel Joint Political Military Group in Tel Aviv. A major portion of the two-day meeting, which ended on Oct. 30, concerned Israel's requests for future security assistance.

"As part of that presentation, the United States and Israel exchanged letters on Oct. 29 confirming the intent of the administration, subject to Congressional approval, to provide Israel $2.22 billion in foreign military assistance in FY2005," a State Department statement said on Tuesday. "In addition to noting the importance attached to the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship, the letters reaffirmed the administration's commitment to enhancing Israel's security and maintaining Israel's qualitative edge over any combination of adversaries."

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