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Israeli defense minister: cutting military spending will endanger country

(Xinhua)

08:56, September 02, 2011

JERUSALEM, Sep. 1 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated Thursday his opposition to cutting the country's security budget to fund social welfare goals.

"There is no possibility to implement these cuts to assist the public without exposing Israeli citizens to danger," Barak said in an interview with The Marker business daily.

"Life itself precedes quality of life... Investment in the country's security is an insurance policy," he added.

Since the eruption of nationwide social protests in late July, greater attention has been given to Israel's military spending, among the largest spending per capita in the world, as a "pot of gold" that can potentially fund a host of long-neglected social programs. Some government bodies, including the Finance Ministry, are reportedly in favor of such measures.

While the Defense Ministry is planning some cuts in its annual 40-billion-shekel (about 11.2 billion U.S. dollars) budget, the country's social protesters will "not find their salvation" in them, Barak said.

However, in a bid to tone down criticism, Barak announced last month that his ministry would do its part to assist the government in providing solutions to social grievances. Among the main suggestions offered was freeing lands occupied by defunct military bases for public housing.

Barak said Thursday that the past two months of social protests, which have been ongoing so far, presents an opportunity for a "new deal between the government and the citizens."

"We have the opportunity for a new social order, one that will bring about deep changes that will renew Ben-Gurion's visions for a just society," Barak told The Marker, referring to Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

The defense minister said although the government is preoccupied with the United Nations vote on the Palestinian statehood in September and the potential outbreak of violence in its wake, the government would not overlook social issues.

In a related development, Barak on Thursday convened the first meeting of a newly-established committee mandated to review ways of cutting fat off the defense establishment's flanks.

"The committee will examine core issues, with the goal of pinpointing directions and trends through which budgetary sources can be funneled to assist the Defense Ministry, and to deal with challenges on both the security and social-civil fronts," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The committee, whose members include economists and accountants from the academia and private sector, is expected to file its recommendations before the end of 2011.

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