Israeli army brass attack slashes in military spending

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JERUSALEM — Israeli military officials last week lashed out at a government decision to slash defense spending, saying it could hurt Israeli security.

"This government declared it would increase security," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai told reporters Thursday of last week, after his ministry suffered cuts of some $59 million. "I certainly regret the harm done" to the Israel Defense Force.

Some military analysts disagreed with Mordechai, saying the military could afford further cuts if new efficiency measures were taken.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet approved additional cuts of $228 million from the state budget, despite sharp opposition from a number of ministers.

In January, the Knesset approved a $58 billion state budget for 1997 that included cuts of $2.2 billion from then-existing spending.

Mordechai, who had previously requested additional money for the defense budget, boycotted last week's Cabinet meeting to protest the planned defense cuts.

Four ministers opposed the army cutbacks, including Health Minister Yehoshua Matza and Education Minister Zevulun Hammer.

For Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman, passage of the proposal was his first victory since taking office several weeks ago.

Ne'eman had argued that the cut was needed to meet the government's budget targets, which calls for the deficit not to exceed 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product.

He said the cut was needed because an economic slowdown had brought in lower tax revenues than projected.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed adoption of the proposal, calling it proof of his government's ability to stay within the framework of its economic objectives.