Hike the defense budget

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, April 24, 2015. Also in Hebrew on May 3, 2015 in Mida.

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The IDF must be ready for unrelenting combat over the coming decade, and this costs plenty. Israel dare not skimp in this regard. Its independence depends on robust defense readiness.

Jews: Not so easy to mess with anymore
Jews: Not so easy to mess with anymore

Israel’s military urgently needs an infusion of cash. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the apparently-incoming Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon must significantly boost the defense budget, despite other priorities.

Israel will likely fight several wars over the coming decade. The IDF will need to knock-back the Iranian-proxy armies and jihadist militias camped on our borders. It may need to “decommission” Iran’s nuclear facilities in Fordow and Arak. And only G-d knows what kind of instability Israel may yet have to overcome on its eastern border.

Given America’s stampeding retreat from overseas commitments, and President Obama’s creeping repeal of the protective diplomatic umbrella America has extended to Israel for many decades – Israel may be fighting truly alone.

Consider the situation in Lebanon. In order to rout Hezbollah and destroy its missile stockpiles, in the next war Israel will have to re-conquer southern Lebanon on the ground. Even with the Israel Air Force working intensively from above (including massive leveling of Lebanese infrastructures), Israel could be facing eight weeks of real and unrelenting combat.

Readying the IDF for this requires a rollback of the misguided “Teuzah” multi-year plan for the IDF promulgated in 2013 by then chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. That plan accepted a significant decrease in overall funding to the IDF and shifted priorities away from the ground forces in favor of air force and cyber capabilities, intelligence, special operations forces, and stand-off precision fire.

Indeed, the ground forces budget was cut by 25 percent between 2002 and 2006. This trend was suspended pursuant to the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but was resumed soon afterwards in the Gantz era.

According to Amir Rapaport, publisher and editor of Israel Defense magazine and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Gantz accepted the relative weakness of the maneuvering capabilities of the ground forces as a given. He did not think that the IDF would need to fight a conventional army force in the foreseeable future, nor have to conduct large-scale ground maneuvers in enemy territory.

As far back as December 2013, Dr. Eitan Shamir and Dr. Eado Hecht of the same think-tank have been warning that this is a mistaken prism. “Neglect of the IDF’s ground forces poses a risk to Israel’s security. There are real battles ahead against well-entrenched Hamas and Hezbollah armies,” they wrote. Operation Protective Edge in Gaza proved them right.

Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisencot, the new IDF chief-of-staff, along with Defense Minister Yaalon, with the support of Kachlon, must now fix this. Here is how:

* Training: A gargantuan increase in training of front-line troops is necessary. It is a well-known secret that many of the infantry and armored forces that went into Gaza last summer were insufficiently trained for combat in built-up areas. Alas, training is expensive, especially for combined arms high intensity conflict – which involves multiple branches of the military working together. Training of the reserve forces is even more expensive. And unfortunately, budget lines for training are usually the first thing to be cut when the overall military budget is slashed – as it has been in recent years.

* Platforms: The army needs to reverse the demobilization of armored formations and buy and deploy many more “Namer” armored personnel carriers, equipped with the leading-edge “Iron Fist” active defense system; and “Merkava” main battle tanks, with the Trophy system. This will cost hundreds of millions of shekels, and it is necessary. We can’t have a repeat of the tragedy in Shejaia where an anti-tank missile was fired into an old, lightly armored personnel carrier killing seven Golani soldiers.

* Stocks: The IDF used up a lot of its ammunition reserves during the fifty-day conflict with Hamas last summer, especially its stocks of precision-guided shells and missiles. And for a brief period, Washington held up resupply of Hellfire missiles. The takeaway is that the IDF needs to stockpile much larger reserves of weaponry for the likely lengthy wars of the future with Hezbollah and Hamas. Again, this requires more money with guaranteed funding over a multi-year plan.

* Navy: Elements of radical Islam are gaining control across the eastern Mediterranean basin, from Libya to Syria and Turkey. Israel and Greece are the only Western-oriented countries in the region. Prof. Efraim Inbar and Admiral (res.) Eliezer “Chiney” Marom argue that Israel needs a much more powerful navy, with a long reach, to counter the strategic realignments underway, and to protect from terrorist attack the substantial natural gas fields we have discovered at sea. The Israel Navy wants more than $5 billion in new ships, subs, weapons systems and personnel over the next decade for this, and its request is both justified and essential.

* West Bank: Should security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority collapse – a remote but real possibility – Israel will need to pour more troops and treasure into policing Judea and Samaria. This will be an enormous drain on the military system. There is talk of establishing an additional division for tightening control of the territories, and we should do this before a security crisis erupts. Again, this is a big budget item.

* Jordan Valley: Many voices in the defense establishment are calling for the building of a well-fortified security fence along Israel’s long border with Jordan, as has been done along the Sinai, Lebanese and Golan borders. The fluidity of the political and security situation to our east requires this, and it needs to be budgeted for expeditiously.

* Satellites and missiles: Because of budget cuts, some satellite projects (such as the development of “mini satellites”) are in real danger. This is a mistake, since outer space is expected to evolve into an actual battlefield. The development of Israel’s Jericho-4 surface-to-surface missile must not be delayed either. The same goes for the state-of-the-art long-range intelligence gathering networks required to identify targets and connect them in a matter of seconds to the various types of fire delivery elements.

* Iran: If worse comes to worse (and every day it indeed seems that worse news comes from Washington about its strategic capitulation to Iran), the IDF and IAF may have to act against Iran’s nuclear and missile facilities. Then Israel will have to deal with the fallout from Iran’s potential military retaliation – and we had better be ready both militarily and on the home front. We probably need two squadrons, not one, of the F-35 futuristic jet fighter to overcome the S-300 missiles that Russia is now selling to Iran. And we need quite a few (more) Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense batteries. A small fortune.

“We must be willing to defend Israel at all cost,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Yom Hazikaron earlier this week. Well, cost it will! Israel dare not skimp in this regard. Its independence depends on robust defense readiness.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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