Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday blasted his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, dismissing as “bizarre and irresponsible” comments made by the former prime minister on Friday. Olmert, who has declared his support of the center-left Kadima party in the upcoming elections, had accused Netanyahu of wasting NIS 11 billion (just under $3 billion) on “harebrained adventures that haven’t, and won’t, come to fruition.”
In an interview with Israel Radio, Netanyahu defended his government’s military spending, and asserted that it “did not waste a single shekel.”
“Investing in the security of Israel’s citizens is not a waste,” said the prime minister, insisting that what he had accomplished with defense spending “serves the State of Israel very well. We have developed both offensive and defensive capabilities, for the short and long term.”
Netanyahu cited the billions of shekels that were spent on a border fence between Israel and Egypt, which he said had completely stemmed the flow of African asylum-seekers to Israel. Additionally, he said, billions of shekels went toward deploying Iron Dome batteries that protect citizens in both the southern and central regions of the country from rocket attacks.
“The security now in Gaza is better that it has been in years,” Netanyahu said. “For the past four years we invested a lot in security, and after four years I can say that the State of Israel is in a very different place.”
Speaking to Channel 2 News on Friday, Olmert charged that the Netanyahu administration had “scared the world for a year and in the end didn’t do anything.” He was referring to the prime minister’s efforts to use the threat of an Israeli military campaign to spur the West into action against Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program both by toughening sanctions and by wielding its own credible military threat.
Asked about the NIS 11 billion which Olmert claimed had been spent on the Iranian threat, Netanyahu refused to go into specifics of budgetary allocations. He noted, however, that the statement was “not at all accurate.”
When he took office in 2009, Netanyahu said, he approached the Iranian threat in two ways.
“The first… was to coordinate an international effort to impose an economic blockade on Iran by way of the sanctions,” he said. But what made the sanctions successful, according to the prime minister, was the second approach: to build “independent capabilities” for Israel to act if need be.
Netanyahu said that, after meeting with world leaders, he found that “one of the reasons, if not the primary reason, for their agreeing to impose sanctions [on Iran] was that they understood that we were very serious and determined to act in the event that there were no sanctions.”
With the elections less than a week and a half away, Netanyahu emphasized that in order to continue working to bolster Israel’s security, particularly regarding the Iranian threat, “I need a large ruling party behind me.”
“In the Middle East, anyone who wishes to exist and to have peace, must be strong,” the prime minister continued. “And if you want to be strong, you must be prepared. We invested in preparedness, and in [military] might, and the people of Israel, I believe, feel the difference.”
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.