TEL AVIV – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman flagged unplanned developments in a “fragile and explosive” region as justification for seeking an additional 4.8 billion shekels, or $1.4 billion, beyond funds earmarked for defense in a multiyear agreement between the Israeli Treasury and the Ministry of Defense.
He noted that the 2015 agreement hammered out between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon contained a clause allowing for reopening of budgetary negotiations in the event of security or economic changes defined by respective ministries as “force majeure.”
“There’s been significant, dramatic changes in the security situation, that altered our situational assessment in a meaningful way,” Liberman told reporters here.
He cited three issues of force majeure: “a massive Russian presence” in Syria that did not exist when the budget deal was signed, introduction of precision weaponry by Hizbollah and “other sources,” and a “dramatic acceleration of the Iranian defense industries.”
According to Liberman, the Arab League shares Israeli concerns regarding the acceleration and expansion of the Iranian defense industry. “This has become a source of worry not just here. The Arab League also discussed this recently in Egypt.”
The Israeli defense minister said additional funds would be spread over three years, and that a quarter of his requested plus-up would come from savings achieved through MoD efficiency measures.
Of the existing budgetary agreement that was to continue through 2020, Liberman said: “The easiest way would be to adhere to the agreement… it may be the easiest, but not the correct way” to respond to changing events.
Under the 2015 budget deal, Israeli defense spending for 2018 was pegged at some $20 billion, which includes U.S. military aid. Under a new U.S.-Israel aid deal signed in September 2006, which kicks in later next year, Israel is to receive $3.8 billion in nonrefundable grant aid for each year of the decade to come, $500 million of which is earmarked for missile defense.
Ofer Shelah, an Israeli lawmaker and member of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Defense Budget, said Liberman would have to come and explain to lawmakers how his requested budget boost fits into an overall national defense plan. “Such requests may be valid, but how are we to know without a comprehensive plan for how the government and the defense establishment intends to deal with these changes,” said Shelah, a prominent lawmaker who also serves on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a subcommittee on defense strategy and force structure buildup.
Liberman told reporters here that he has no complaints regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Finance Minister Kahlon, and that even without his requested plus-up, he would ensure that the IDF would be ready to fight all threats. However, he warned, “I want everyone to be aware of the sensitive situation we’re finding ourselves in… The government needs at the end of the day to decide, and in order to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel, we need a supplement to our defense budget.”
He added, “At the end of the day, the situation here is fragile and explosive. We’ve succeeded a few good years already in preserving the highest level of security, and our primary aim remains focused on preventing the next war.”
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.