Liberman: Northern Israel unprepared for war, needs huge budget increase

Defense minister says Israel won’t allow Iran to acquire a nuke or set up in Syria, calls for calm as Gaza heats up

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: An Israeli family takes cover in a bomb shelter made of a converted concrete pipe during the 2014 Gaza war. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: An Israeli family takes cover in a bomb shelter made of a converted concrete pipe during the 2014 Gaza war. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday warned that Israel’s north is unprepared for war and called for a large budget increase by the security cabinet in order to address the problem.

“The best situation is in the south, in the area around the Gaza Strip; the worst situation is in the north,” the defense minister said, speaking at a conference held by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

In an onstage interview, the defense minister said that Israel would neither allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, nor let the Islamic Republic entrench itself in Syria.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to the press in a field just outside the Gaza Strip on February 20, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“We’re not just saying it, we mean what we say,” he said.

Liberman was also asked about a planned mass protest along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, amid current tensions with terrorist organizations in the coastal enclave.

“First of all, don’t be alarmed. We need to deal with everything calmly and with determination. We are prepared for every scenario, we are raising our level of alertness and we will deal with every event that comes,” he said.

An unprotected North

Northern Israel would likely be hardest hit if war were to break out with the Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, which is believed to maintain an arsenal of 100,000-150,000 missiles, rockets and mortar shells.

According to Israeli estimates, more than 1,000 of these projectiles could be fired at Israel every day in a future conflict with Hezbollah.

Liberman, who has held his position for nearly two years, said that since 2006 the government has invested some NIS 1.7 billion ($485 million) in protective facilities in the area around the Gaza Strip, where fewer than 50,000 people live, meaning approximately NIS 37,000 ($10,600) per resident.

However, in northern Israel, where nearly a quarter of a million people live, the government invested NIS 236 million ($68 million) for bomb shelters in that same period, which works out to be approximately NIS 970 ($280) for each resident.

Earlier this year, Liberman reached an agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for a budget increase of NIS 150 million ($43 million) for installing and upgrading bomb shelters in northern Israel.

Children in Kiryat Malachi run toward a bomb shelter Friday. A residential building in the southern city was hit by a rocket Thursday, killing three. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Children run toward a bomb shelter in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi during a November 2012 military operation in Gaza, known as Pillar of Defense. (Yuval Haker/Israel Defense Forces)

The defense minister said the government would have to increase that to NIS 1 billion ($286 million) a year in order to get northern Israel’s protective facilities up to code.

“That’s the minimum needed to bring the north up to the level of the south,” he said.

In January, Col. Golan Wach of the IDF Home Front Command, told the Knesset that in the areas closest to the northern borders from Lebanon and Syria — between zero and 9 kilometers (5.59 miles) away — approximately 24 percent of Jewish and over 40% of Arab residents lack adequate bomb shelters.

Throughout the country, approximately 27% of citizens do not have access to proper protective facilities, either private or public, Wach said.

In general, the situation is worse in Arab cities and towns than Jewish ones. Following a number of lawsuits, the Israel Defense Forces has started working to improve these conditions in Arab communities.

The responsibility of ensuring that Israeli citizens have access to suitable bomb shelters falls on a number of government ministries, chief among them the Defense Ministry.

For several months, Liberman has been calling for Kahlon to increase the Defense Ministry’s budget, citing unexpected security developments in the region.

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