IDF: Defense Budget Hike Not Big Enough
The head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division told the Knesset on Monday that last week's increase of NIS 1.6 billion ($430 million) in defense spending was not enough for Israel's military to surmount the challenges it faces.
Brigadier-General Guy Tzur said the IDF bottom line needed to be increased by NIS 7 billion (about $1.8 billion) if goals were to be met.
Noting the army's "maneuverability" had been severely impacted by the "amount of anti-tank missiles in the enemy's possession," Tzur added that a "huge financial investment is required to improve the army's defense capabilities and to develop cyber capabilities."
Earlier Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the committee "it is the defense establishment's responsibility and obligation to be prepared for any development.
"Even those who are not defense experts understand that resources are needed to provide a response to regional challenges," he said.
Despite last week's budget increase Israel's navy has scrapped plans to buy two next-generation missile ships and the IAF is reportedly considering dropping plans to purchase 75 F-35 stealth fighters in favor of cheaper F-15 and F-16 models.
In addition, Israel's navy plans to finance two new smaller Sa'ar 4.5-class missile corvettes built in Israel by retiring two older Sa'ar 4 vessels.
In 2010, the air force, which will be key to any conflict with Iran, ordered 20 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters worth $2.75 billion to maintain its long-held supremacy in the air. But delays in the F-35 program mean Israel may not get the jet until after 2017.
That, combined with the naval cuts, has put Barak's plans to expand Israel's strategic ability to operate in what defense planners call the "third circle" – the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea into question as tensions in that region mount.
Senior security officials have also warned that sweeping Islamist victories in Egypt’s polls and the increasingly unstable situation in Syria could destabilize Israel’s frontiers – requiring a shift back towards traditional war-fighting formations rather than the IDF’s current anti-terrorism footing.
Critics of Barak’s focus on expensive long-range strategic systems and development programs has come at the expense of mainline battle units such as armor and heavy infantry. IDF sources say the new push for funds would help mitigate weaknesses in those areas while also aiding Israel’s ability to operate in the “third circle.”
Israel's defense budget is 6.9% of its GDP. While higher than many countries, it remains almost 11% lower per capita than defense spending in the United States.
The IDF push for greater financing comes amid calls by social welfare proponents to cut the Defense Budget in order to increase Israel's welfare basket.
"Some NIS 3 billion (about $790 million) can be cut from the defense budget without hurting the security establishment's ability to complete its important tasks," Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, who authored the government's social welfare reform initiative, said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended the hike in defense funding last week noting social funding goals would be met.
"We have to keep the balance and defend our citizens and our budget," Netanyahu said. "There is no defense without a good economy; defense costs a lot of money."
Netanyahu has not commented on the IDF's most recent request for more funds.