As Usual, the Defense Budget Balloons

The IDF in one breath turned the civil war in Syria into a major threat justifying an increase to the defense budget, even though the war there actually removes the threat of a war against the crumbling Syrian army.

Reuven Pedatzur
Reuven Pedatzur
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Reuven Pedatzur
Reuven Pedatzur

Once again, as expected, the military managed to avoid a real cut to its budget. The decision by the government to cut NIS 3 billion from the defense budget is a sham, because in the coming years the budget will increase even further. That’s why the top military brass and the defense minister accepted the “decree” with a wink and a nod. After all, they know what will happen even before this year is out. The chief of General Staff will come to the prime minister, point to the sudden development of a new and serious threat, and funds will flow to the defense establishment once again.

So it always was, and so it always will be. The Calcalist newspaper found that over the last decade the average annual budget hike received by the Defense Ministry was NIS 7.2 billion. There was never any connection between the defense budget passed by the Knesset and the actual defense budget. Thus, for example, at the end of December 2012, on the eve of elections, the Knesset Finance Committee approved an additional NIS 1.6 billion for the defense budget, while the regular ‏(civilian‏) budget was cut by NIS 740 million. Incidentally, there were only two MKs at that meeting.

The Israel Defense Forces is calm, of course, because it has already been promised that starting in a year and a half, its budget will be increased, until it reaches a record NIS 59 billion in 2018.

How is it that while substantial changes in the geostrategic situation should allow for a reduction in defense expenditures, they are actually increasing? It’s very simple. The army commanders rushed to take two preventive steps.

First, they demanded another NIS 3 billion for the defense budget, creating a gap of NIS 7 billion between the army’s demand and that of the Finance Ministry. But it’s the prime minister who ultimately decides, and it isn’t reasonable to assume that he will decide to accept one side’s demand in full, while it is reasonable to assume he will seek a compromise. That’s how the IDF foiled any chance of a NIS 4 billion cut from the start.

The second step toward preventing a cut was to elevate the dangers facing Israel while delivering a veiled threat to the country’s leaders: If the budget is cut, we won’t be able to properly respond to these risks. That’s how a civil war in Syria turns with one breath into a major threat justifying an increase to the defense budget, even though the war there actually removes the threat of a war against the crumbling Syrian army. Nor does the IDF hesitate to wave the Egyptian threat in our faces, claiming it has increased since the takeover there of the Muslim Brotherhood, even as the chances of Egypt launching a war against Israel are nil.

What remains is the threat from the tens of thousands of missiles in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas. Here it would actually be possible to save a bundle by not procuring any more Iron Dome or Magic Wand anti-missile systems. Leaving aside the issue ‏(which the defense establishment prefers to ignore‏) of how efficient the Iron Dome really is, it’s clear that this defense policy is mistaken.

The math is simple. The cost of one Iron Dome missile is around $100,000. The cost of a Magic Wand missile will be more than a million dollars. The IDF claims that in a major war, around 1,000 missiles a day will be fired, which means that our inventory of defense missiles would be exhausted in two or three days. Yet our decision-makers prefer to celebrate the Iron Dome rather than conduct an honest evaluation of this erroneous logic.

Unfortunately, as in the past, even now there will be no orderly, professional and honest assessment and analysis of the threats facing Israel and the IDF’s readiness to meet them. The IDF’s preventive measures worked again.

An Israel Air Force F-15 taking off.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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