JERUSALEM (Jul. 17)
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin is engaged in a tug-of-war with the Treasury over a $200 million defense budget supplement he says is imperative to pay for measures to suppress the Palestinian uprising.
The Treasury is reported to have suggested he make do with $50 million.
The Cabinet advised him to continue discussions with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Finance Minister Shimon Peres, with a view to reaching an agreement by next Sunday.
Michael Bruno, governor of the Bank of Israel, told the Cabinet that all ministerial budgets would have to be trimmed if it eventually decides on an increase for defense. The alternative, he said, was spiralling inflation.
Rabin argued that the unanticipated high cost of containing the 19-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip placed a severe financial strain on the Israel Defense Force at a time when a new external threat is looming from Iraq.
Rabin recalled that back in 1985, he agreed to a $600 million cutback in the defense budget, the largest ever undertaken by a defense minister. It was possible, Rabin said, because Iraq was locked in a prolonged war with Iran and the peace with Egypt was holding well, as it is today.
But now that the Persian Gulf war has ended, powerfully equipped, battle-hardened Iraqi armed forces have altered the regional balance of power, Rabin said. That makes it imperative for Israel to keep up its own defense outlay and preparedness, he argued.
Rabin got support from air force Cmdr. Avihu Bin-Nun, who warned Monday that if the government does not reimburse the IDF for its expenses fighting the intifada, the air force will be forced to make cuts that would impair its ability to meet increasing threats from the Arab states.
Speaking to military correspondents, Bin-Nun said if the supplemental budget was not forthcoming, the air force would have to transfer $50 million of its budget to the logistics branch of the army to pay for rubber bullets and other riot-control equipment.
That money, he said, would come out of the air force’s weapons development and flight training budgets.
He said the air force’s routine activities were aimed at deterring strategic threats, including surface-to-surface missiles and chemical warfare attacks from Syria and Iraq.