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Behind the Headlines Israel’s Army and the Budget Cuts

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The generally deleterious effects of proposed budget cuts on the army’s level of preparedness, morale and training were the immediate cause of Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s resignation Sunday. Having decided to quit, he originally intended to take Chief of Staff Gen. Raphael Eitan and other senior officers with him to the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday to explain what he regarded as a potentially dangerous situation to the ministers.

But Weizman changed his mind at the last minute, apparently realizing that his decision to resign had less to do with the security situation than with his political disaffection with the government in which he served for the past three years. It was Weizman’s views on the issue of settlements in the occupied territories, the way Israeli rule was administered in these territories and the government’s conduct of the autonomy negotiations with Egypt, that led to his differences with the Cabinet majority.

CONCERNED OVER CONDITION OF THE ARMY

Nevertheless, the condition of the army and its possible worsening as a result of the budget freeze was a matter of serious concern to Weizman and the defense establishment as a whole. Only a week ago, the Defense Minister attended a meeting of senior officers who complained of the situation created by the austere fiscal policies. They spoke of shortages of material, reduced training time and the difficulty in planning for the years ahead because of uncertainties about the budget at their disposal.

The officers reported that soldiers deployed in the Jordan Valley were forced to live in tents because of budgetary limitations and would continue to do so far several years. They expressed resentment that only a few miles from the military encampment, the government spent billions of Pounds to build a settlement for eight families.

The economic situation has also seriously delayed the construction of a new military infrastructure in the Negev to replace the bases Israel will give up in Sinai by the end of next year. The time table has been extended from three years to seven years, meaning that Israel’s Negev defenses will not be ready before the middle of the decade and soldiers stationed there would continue to live in discomfort.

The training of soldiers was also hard hit by budget cuts. Fewer hours can be devoted to training exercises; tank motors must be run fewer hours in order to conserve fuel; there are fewer rounds of shells for practice firing; fewer training flight hours for the Air Force and even reduced rations for the troops.

EFFECTS OF BUDGET CUTS

It was reported, meanwhile, that Eitan is urgently seeking a meeting with Premier Menachem Begin to express his deep concern over the effects of the budget cuts on the military establishment. It was rumored that Eitan would resign if the significant cuts were made. The Chief of Staff is an ardent proponent of economy whose stewardship over the armed forces is credited with having saved millions of Pounds. He has issued standing orders to troops to collect expended cartridge shells for re-use.

Apparently Eitan has been worried for sometime that budget cuts would undermine the army’s effectiveness as a fighting force. But he was dissuaded by Weizman from taking his views to Begin before now because that might have given the impression that the Defense Minister was sending emissaries to fight his budget battles.

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