A few weeks ago, IDF chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi made an unprecedented public comment trashing the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran. In fact, all of his recent predecessors in that role had endorsed the deal, as had both Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence chiefs. No one wanted a war with Iran. And though some were less than enthusiastic about the overall agreement, they acknowledged it was the best that could be expected under existing circumstances.
Kochavi’s statement blew up this military-intelliigence consensus. Not to mention that it drove a wedge between Israel and the incoming Biden administration, which made it crystal clear it was committed to reviving the deal. The army chief’s comments came from so far out of left field compared to previous ones made by his colleagues and predecessors, that I said to myself: something’s up. The nation’s top military chief doesn’t go out on a limb for Bibi unless there’s something big in it for him and the army. And today, the other shoe dropped. Bibi Netanyahu paid off his bribe, dropping wads of cash into Kochavi’s lap.
Despite the fact that the government has no budget, the PM and Kochavi signed a secret deal offering the army a $600-million increase. In US terms, of course, this would be peanuts. But in Israeli terms it’s significant. As of 2019, Israel’s defense budget was $20.5-billion (though it’s important to note that this does not include covert budget items like funding for the Mossad and Israel’s nuclear weapons program), ranking Israel 15th in the size of its military expenditure. This equals a 3.5% increase.
The army justifies its ever increasing demands by shreying at very chance it gets about the Iranian bogeyman looming at the border. The purported nuclear threat and Iran’s support for Hezbollah all contribute to the hysteria necessary to continue picking the pocket of the Israeli taxpayer. But no less than a senior Israeli government figure told me that its all a bluff:
Bibi and Gantz… decided to recruit Kochavi himself to make the false threat. They promised him that the government will increase the defense budget by billions of shekels for the [fake] military option against Iran. All three of them know that the IDF will use the extra money for other purposes.”
The $600-million will be broken down as follows: $80-million comes to the IDF immediately. It will be transferred from an environmental fund designated for the restoration of stone quarries. Clearly, environmental issues have little interest for Bibi, and such a handsome treasure chest is ripe for the pickings when there’s a need to rob from Peter to pay Paul.
That’s where things get really clever: besides the $80-million, the IDF will receive over $450-million in increased spending. But it will have to list what items in its next budget it will cut back to, in effect, zero out the increase. If that isn’t clever hocus-pocus!
These developments come on the heels of a realization that there are simply no financial sources from which the government can satisfy the army’s original request for a $1-billion budget increase. The only legitimate way to do so would be to severely cut back on social service funding for education or grants to local governments, which would be a suicidal move in the midst of an election campaign.
So Netanyahu and Kochavi came up with a clever stratagem–it will pass this budget hot potato on to the next government. It will have to decide whether to recoup the $400-million with cutbacks, or whether to gift the funds to the IDF. In that event, the chief of staff will sternly warn the public that such a “drastic cut” would pose imminent danger to national security. And what prime minister would have the guts to contradict him? Instead, he’ll figure out a way to finesse the matter and satisfy the army.
Clearly, no one in Israel has ever heard of Harry Truman or his famous dictum: the buck stops here. Bibi has chosen to follow the lead of a famous monarch from history: Louis XIV who said: apres moi, le deluge. In Israel, it’s the taxpayer who is swept away by the flood of bloated military spending.
Kochavi’s cynicism knows no bounds. Barely six weeks ago, he promised that the IDF would work within its budget and cut items that were deemed secondary in order to fund items deemed more critical. He proudly labelled this doctrine: “guns before socks.” As he was counting pennies, he had secretly sent Bibi a bill demanding a $1-billion budget increase: that’s a lot of socks! In the current deal cut with the prime minister, we see that this was all an elaborate feint to conceal a backroom deal conjured like a rabbit from a magician’s hat.
This entire charade is part and parcel of an Israeli tendency to ignore problems as long as they don’t cause undue pain. Sweeping issues like Palestinian rights and apartheid under the rug are far preferable to being forced to confront long-term injustice. Similarly, a nation brow-beaten into believing its very survival is dependent on corrupt deals like the one described above, will never confront the bloated monster that is the IDF.