TEL AVIV (Aug. 29)
The battle of the budget left the confines of the Cabinet for the mass media Wednesday night.
Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Ehud Barak appeared on television to make a strong pitch for the half-billion dollar hike in the military budget the Defense Ministry is seeking for fiscal 1992.
He was countered Thursday by Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i, who warned of economic disaster unless the entire budget is pared, including defense.
Moda’i deplored Barak’s television appearance as an attempt to influence the public over the heads of the Cabinet ministers, a “grave matter in a democracy.”
The chief of staff, who has been a controversial figure since he took the job in May, appeared on a prestigious interview program. The broadcast followed a news conference with military correspondents.
Barak used both platforms to stress Israel’s defense needs. He said that while the Persian Gulf War last winter and present developments in the Soviet Union may have temporarily reduced the risk of war for Israel, the IDF must make long-range plans, which demand very large investments in new equipment and technologies.
Barak rejected the Treasury’s contention that the absorption of new immigrants, housing and education were equally important elements of future defense.
Moda’i responded Thursday at his own news conference for military correspondents.
He said he had no argument with the defense establishment regarding its needs. But his responsibility is the overall economy, which at the moment is in far from good shape.
The bottom line, Moda’i said, is that unless drastic action is taken now, Israel will soon face a budget deficit that no country could bear.
He said present plans to provide housing, jobs and educational facilities for new immigrants and veteran Israelis alike would be completed by 1993.
Until then, across-the-board spending cuts must be made in all sectors, including the army.
Moda’i called it a pity that the chief of staff, whose job is to advise the defense minister, thought it necessary to carry on the budget dispute in public. He said he would like to see the creation of a national security council to provide independent, expert advice to the government on defense, economic and other matters.
The fight over the defense budget is taking place in the absence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is visiting Bulgaria this week.
Foreign Minister David Levy, who is acting prime minister, tried unsuccessfully to prevent Barak’s television appearance. However, the interview was taped in advance and aired in its entirety, despite Levy’s appeal to the Broadcast Authority to edit out references to the budget.