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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Israel to be gassed to Eternity?

Aryeh Z. in Beitar sent me an article from Globes - Israel's business daily (they even have those funny pictures instead of real ones, like the Wall Street Journal in the US) - that shows that Israel excels in anything handled by the private sector and lags in anything handled by the public sector:
Israel has fallen from 14th to 17th place in the World Economic Forum (WEF) global competitiveness rankings, published in the organizations Global Competitiveness Report 2007-2008. The rankings are topped by the US, Switzerland, and Denmark.

The Israel Manufacturers Association, which represents the WEF in Israel, said that, in the components of the competitiveness index, Israel ranked 67th out of the 131 countries surveyed for time required to start a business; 42nd for total tax rate; 31st for burden of government regulation; 37th for quality of port infrastructure; 30th for quality of roads; and 36th for quality of railroad infrastructure.

When it comes to innovation, Israel does better. The country is ranked 5th for venture capital availability; 4th for availability of latest technologies; 5th for firm-level technology absorption; 5th for utility patents; and 7th for company spending on R&D.

Analysis of the results shows that Israel has fallen from 17th to 31st place for quality of math and science education. Israel ranks 4th for personal computers, and 46th for Internet users. For inflation, Israel ranks 19th.
I could go through the public rankings and show you why they're generous to Israel - if anything - but I don't have the time for that right now.

The Israeli economy is run very much like George Orwell's Animal Farm: All of the animals here are equal, but some are more equal than others. In fact, given the way the economy is run here in the socialist paradise, it's a miracle we've survived this long.

Tax rates are exorbitant. The maximum marginal income tax rate is 48%, but you hit 47% at NIS 11,000 per month - less than $3000. Up to a certain point you pay NII (National Insurance Institute - called Bituach Leumi in Hebrew - like Social Security). You pay and pay and pay and get very little in return. The retirement stipends are so small that no one can live on them.

There's no universal filing requirement so lots of people cheat. They take cash for second jobs they don't tell the government they have. They run independent businesses without collecting or paying Value Added Tax (a sales tax that applies to almost everything - including services - and turns all of us into tax collectors). And then there's the value added tax you pay which is currently 15.5% (has been as high as 18% in my time here). There's a health tax, but like in England, the level of services has declined since the tax was imposed and all the health funds were forced to offer the same basic basket of services at the same price.

Those of us who run independent businesses on the books are subject to at least one full audit every four years. Plus you have to file something called a "Wealth Declaration" ("Hatzharat Hone") that essentially requires you to strip naked for the tax authorities every four years. And then the tax authorities assume you're guilty of tax evasion until you prove yourself innocent (no, really - and much of the time they are actually right!).

Cities and towns don't have the right to determine their tax rates, but they are required to provide a certain level of services with the national government making up the shortfall. Not only can't they determine their tax rates - the government doesn't even allow them to level property taxes universally. You can guess how responsible most of their budgets are.... You think the Mayor wants to lose an election because the garbage wasn't picked up because the city is broke?

The country has one national labor federation that can shut down much of the country (pretty much everything except high tech and the non-medical professions) whenever they feel like it and without a strike vote.

I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Despite this, the country actually ran a tax surplus last year because the tax rates were so high and the private side is so good that the economy is booming. All of which brings me to the story that headlines this post: The government has admitted that they don't have enough gas masks to go around and that they need another NIS 1 billion (about $250 million at today's exchange rate) to pay for more. Where did I hear that before?

The IDF needs more than NIS 1 billion to complete the process of buying new gas masks and refurbishing millions of those being collected from the public, defense officials revealed on Wednesday.

The officials warned that if the money was not allocated in the coming months, the gas mask refurbishing project would be delayed and the redistribution of the masks to the public would have to be postponed until the end of the decade.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently decided that all gas masks collected from the public will be returned to private individuals after they are repaired and deemed suitable for use. Israel distributed gas masks to the public ahead of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has decided to recollect and refurbish them after many residents opened their masks, making them unfit for use today.

Barak's decision was made following a recommendation of the IDF Home Front Command.

But on Wednesday, high-ranking IDF officers said the Defense Ministry had yet to secure the necessary funding. According to the officers, at least NIS 1b. was missing from the current budget.

"Without the money, there is no way we will be able to stay on schedule," a top officer told The Jerusalem Post. "If we don't get the money, then we will end up with a situation in which only half of the country has masks and the other half doesn't."
More likely we'll end up in a situation where no one has them or they're thrown in the street - first come, first served - to make it 'fair.'

I could make some suggestions how the IDF could save money to pay for the gas masks.
  • They could stop trying to expel Jews from their homes.
  • They could stop making lavish retirement parties every time a high-ranking officer leaves the IDF.
  • They could stop with all the poolside vacations ("Y'mei kef") for every unit that are widely reported in the tabloids and cost a fortune (I won't print those pictures here).
  • They could stop the universal draft and stop making the IDF deal with every basket case who can't get a matriculation certificate. Then they wouldn't have to fight 'draft dodging' by putting tankistim in tutus.
  • They can stop drafting women and start hiring a much smaller number of secretaries.
But none of these things will happen, and instead we will be without gas masks - in a best case scenario at least until late 2008:
Home Front Command sources said that if the missing funding was obtained, the defense establishment hoped to begin distributing gas masks to the public toward the end of 2008. According to the sources, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i is holding talks with the Prime Minister's Office and the Finance Ministry to secure the funding.
How's that for a commitment?

If I'm Assad or Nasrallah or Ahmadinjead, I let the chemical weapons fly tomorrow morning because this country is completely defenseless. And how do the lunatics who run the asylum plan to deal with this issue?
According to the defense sources, if war were to break out with Syria or Iran in the coming months, the Home Front Command would only have enough gas masks for 1.5 million adults and half a million children. The Defense Ministry has received several proposals to make emergency purchases of gas masks from Israeli and American companies, if the need arises.
Do they think Assad is going to send them a letter?
Dear Ehud, Tzipi and Ehud,

This letter is to inform you that I plan to start a war next week. Please go make whatever gas mask purchases you want to make for whatever people you want to protect (all Knesset members - or at least the ones in the coalition - and Supreme Court justices and their families) because next Sunday at 0600 hours we're at war.

Best Regards,

Damned lunatics!

And what does the Likud have to say about this?
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, head of a subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that deals with preparing the country for war, confirmed to the Post that significant funding was missing from the gas mask project. He said defense officials recently told the subcommittee that the IDF would begin distributing gas masks to residents of the North in the coming months, due to the heightened tensions with Damascus and Teheran. [And if Assad or Ahmadinejad decide to start a war before that happens? CiJ]

"I feel that the moment they start distributing the masks there will be momentum and the government will have no choice but to complete the job in other parts of the country," Steinitz said.
We can only pray that Steinitz is right and that this all happens before Israel is attacked. At this point, my guess is that the only thing holding off an attack is that Ahmadinejad wants to finish his nukes first. I have to wonder why he and Assad think they need them.


At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gas masks are no use when nerve agents are employed - the toxin will go straight through clothing and skin.

Basically we are all dead if Syria attackes using these weapons - gas masks stopped being useful after WWII. All they are good for is morale and PR...

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Russel Harris,

Then how does one defend against them? Shoot down the missiles? And why did they make such a big deal in both Gulf Wars about giving injectable anti-toxins with the gas masks?

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

Gas masks are no use when nerve agents are employed - the toxin will go straight through clothing and skin.

Basically we are all dead if Syria attackes using these weapons - gas masks stopped being useful after WWII. All they are good for is morale and PR...

I disagree, Gas Masks are the first line of defense against poisonous gasses and biological* agents. While it is true that gas masks do not protect against nerve agents, usually a simple injection of atropine is the anti-dote. Carl is correct, to be fully prepared one must have both gas masks AND injectable antidotes. It is far better to be prepared then to suffer horribly. There is no need to concede defeat against a very real threat.

I also want to thank Carl for providing much insight to the economy and taxation issues regarding Israel. My eyes are opened a little more, but it seems the more I learn the more I have a burden for Israel in my heart. There is much in that Jewish State that needs repair but first and foremost they need leadership. Olmert is no leader, he is an appeaser. [to put it lightly]

*Biological warfare is a very real threat, and it might be more destructive then old WWI era gasses. Gasmasks will protect against many, but not all, of these biological agents.


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