HERZLIYA, Israel — Israel's security situation going into annual defense budget debates is extraordinarily good, and the military's proposed multiyear spending plan — dubbed Plan Gideon — aims to keep challenges in check while exploiting opportunities, top civilian and military officials said Monday.
"Our security situation hasn't been so good for a long time," retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, director of the Defense Ministry's political-military and policy bureau, told participants at the 15th annual Herzliya Conference here.
According to Gilad, deterrence is holding along the northern border with Lebanon; forces fighting in Syria are still too distracted to turn their weapons against Israel; and the threat of Syrian chemical weapons has all but disappeared.
To the west, Jordan remains stable, having survived the 2011 Arab Spring. And while the 1.5 million refugees from the Syrian civil war pose a persistent challenge, "the many who have made a living predicting the collapse of the Hashemite Kingdom" continue to be wrong, Gilad said.
To the east, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, "managed to save Egypt from the claws of the Muslim Brotherhood" and continues to play a meaningful stabilizing factor in the region. Despite the spread of Islamic State fighters and other jihadis in Sinai, Sisi, he said, remains consistent in his resolve to clamp down on terror.
As for Gaza, where at least eight rockets have been launched at Israel since last summer's war, Hamas remains diplomatically isolated, militarily deterred and preoccupied with suppressing even more extreme rogue groups from operating in the Strip.
And with regard to the West Bank, "talk of a third intifada is out of date, at least as of today."
Bottom line, the tendency to prepare for a "hot summer" of war or broad-based operations should not apply to the summer of 2015.
"As a result of our investments in defense, Israel — in the midst of swirling chaos around us — lives in quiet," said Gilad.
At the same Herzliya Conference event, Maj. Gen. Nimrod Shefer, head of planning for the Israel Defense Forces, expanded on many of the good news themes touched on by Gilad.
According to Shefer, Israel is by far the strongest in the region, with assets and capabilities "that we never had before."
Israel's enemies are busy and getting weaker, with many killed in the ongoing Syrian civil war. "It doesn't mean that Hezbollah isn't strong and cannot fight against us, but they are becoming weakened after years of fighting in Syria," he said.
As for the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, "Until two years ago, we trained against huge quantities of chemical weapons in Syria. This threat has all but disappeared," he said.
In parallel, the Syrian military, which posed such a central threat to IDF planning just three years ago, has essentially collapsed. "The Syrian military no longer threatens Israel [except for their residual capacity] to launch a missile at us."
Cooperation with Israel's peace partners Jordan and Egypt is "intimate and strong in ways that we haven't been accustomed to in the past."
"There are many conflicts around us that are weakening our enemies… Islamic extremists are weakening one another… and for the IDF, this represents an opportunity," Shefer said.
He noted that while many countries lack water, food and sound living conditions, Israel is on its way to energy independence and has ample food and water supplies. "From this perspective, we can involve our neighbors in a positive way."
And, perhaps most importantly, Israel's alliance with the United States has never been stronger.
In his June 8 address, Shefer did not refer to ongoing political and diplomatic disputes between Israeli and US leaders over Iran and a two-state peace deal with Palestine. Speaking purely from a military-to-military perspective, he said cooperation across a spectrum of issues and day-to-day ties are unprecedented.
Against the backdrop of myriad good news, Shefer, like MoD's Gilad, flagged Iran as the ultimate source fueling regional instability.
"Forces in the Middle East have been learning for many years in the seminary of Iran. The Iranian worldview and concepts of operation influence the entire region from Syria and Iraq to Hizbollah in Lebanon by way of Yemen.
From the multitude of rockets and missiles in the hands of non-state actors to the concept of subterranean warfare, Shefer said the new five-year plan — which awaits approval by the end of the month — aims to better prepare the IDF to respond in real time to a full spectrum of rapidly changing threats.
Considering the challenges and opportunities of a region in flux, Plan Gideon, he said, is driven on where the IDF needs to change and where the IDF plans to go.
"First and foremost, we have to sharpen our edge and be ready for every threat and every challenge. It sounds obvious, but there were years when we were less ready," he said.
While he didn't provide top line or line-item figures, he cited the need to continue investing heavily in cyber, ground maneuvering capabilities and answers to the subterranean threat highlighted in last summer's Gaza war.
"When we look at last summer as a lesson, the technology of the state of Israel will be found and already is in our hands," he said of emerging anti-tunnel capabilities.
"We — the entire defense establishment — the defense industries and MoD — are making extraordinary efforts in [anti-tunnel] technologies and methods. The technological challenge is huge, but I'm convinced it is in our hands."
While the new coalition government here has not yet finalized Israel's defense budget for 2015, Israel's Globes financial daily reported June 7 that defense spending rose by 9.1 percent compared to the same time last year.
Using latest figures from the Finance Ministry's Accountant General, Globes noted that since the beginning of 2015, MoD spending stood at 26.5 billion shekels (US$6.9 billion). In annual terms, the paper reported that defense spending exceeded 63 billion shekels ($16.4 billion).
The paper noted that due to the collapse of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous coalition government, MoD has been operating on a temporary budget whereby each month, it receives one-twelfth of what it received in 2014.
"In annualized figures, defense spending stands at over 63 billion [shekels], meaning that at a time when a temporary budget is in operation — one twelfth of last year's budget being spent every month this year — MoD is receiving the highest gross budget in its history," Globes reported.
An MoD spokeswoman could not be reached for comment or clarification.