Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday urged lawmakers to boost military spending by over $1 billion dollars over the next three years, citing shifting developments in Syria and elsewhere challenging Israel’s security.
Liberman called for an immediate addition of NIS 4.8 billion ($1.37 billion) to his budget into 2020, saying the previous figure decided on in 2015 was insufficient, in light of dramatic changes from the Syrian civil war and around the region.
The five-year defense budget was negotiated and signed by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in 2015, after brutal negotiations. In both 2016 and 2017, the annual defense budgets were approximately NIS 70 billion ($19.9 billion), with nearly a quarter of it coming from American military aid.
“There’s a significant change in the security situation in the region, which necessitates an increase in the defense budget,” Liberman said. “In order to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens, we must add to the budget,”
The defense minister identified three areas of particular concern: the massive Russian presence in Syria; the influx of precise weapons into the region, not only to Hezbollah, but to other terror groups as well; and a “dramatic acceleration” in the activities of the Iranian military industry.
“This is not just a source of concern for us. The Arab League spoke in Egypt about Iran’s rapid arms build-up,” Liberman said, referring to a meeting held yesterday by the group of Arab nations.
He noted that, following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic has increased its defense spending at a faster rate than Israel has. Earlier this year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted that he had increased the country’s defense budget by 145 percent over the past four years.
Iran is creating a so-called “land bridge,” sometimes referred to as a “Shiite Crescent,” which gives its forces clear ground passage through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
As a result of these changes, the Israeli military will have to be prepared to carry out more attacks behind enemy lines and to strengthen its existing defenses.
Liberman said these developments apply to a condition in the November 2015 budget agreement, which allows for renewed negotiations if “an economic or security change is determined by the ministries to be ‘major.'”
The defense minister said the NIS 4.8 billion he was calling for would be spread out over the next three years, and that a quarter of it would be dedicated to “internal streamlining processes.”
He also noted that the ministry has been funding projects that were not part of the budget, including some NIS 300 million ($85.3 million) to the construction of the underground barrier around the Gaza Strip. The Times of Israel could not independently confirm that figure.
The defense minister said he was not threatening a military shutdown in the event that he is not granted the increase. “I just want everyone to be aware of the sensitive situation we’ve found ourselves in,” he said.
“Most of these things have nothing to do with us, but at the end of the day the situation is fragile and volatile,” Liberman said.
The defense minister noted significant shortages in the number of bomb shelters in northern Israel, which would be the part of the country most affected by a war with Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.
“This is a population that will not get up and build [shelters] for itself. If the state wants to ensure the safety of civilians, it needs to get in there as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We are focusing on the line from Tiberius to Haifa. This is what concerns us. It includes Druze, Bedouins, Arabs and Jews,” Liberman said.
Last year, the State Comptroller’s Office found the country, specifically the north, was unprepared or under-prepared for missile attacks.
In Israel’s northern region, some 32% of civilians do not have access to a proper bomb shelter, the army told the comptroller last year.