PM: Funds needed due to 'security challenges surrounding us'

Netanyahu calls for NIS 3.3 billion increase to the defense budget

Though premier generally approved the boost for military spending, the government still needs to figure out where the money will come from

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with incoming IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 15, 2019. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) shakes hands with incoming IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 15, 2019. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a NIS 3.3 billion ($964 million) increase to the defense budget on Wednesday, despite the current economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the move was necessary in light of “the many security challenges surrounding us.”

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said the decision was made following a discussion with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Israel Katz, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other top government officials.

“The prime minister ordered the Finance Ministry, together with officials from the Defense Ministry, National Security Council, and the Prime Minister’s Office, to find sources of funding to add NIS 3.3 billion to the defense budget,” his office said.

The directive came amid ongoing negotiations between the Israel Defense Forces and the Finance Ministry over the defense budget. The military has called for an increase in funding as it attempts to roll out its multi-year Momentum Plan, which is meant to improve its capabilities, while the Finance Ministry has generally worked to scale back the defense budget, especially in light of the international financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Though less than what the military wanted, this budgetary increase can be seen as a victory for the IDF and Kohavi.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this money will go to “funding routine IDF activities, [construction of the] Gaza border barrier, and other critical areas that cannot be delayed.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed the importance of allowing the defense establishment to preserve stability in the face of the many security challenges surrounding us,” his office said.

Earlier this month, the IDF announced it was canceling a large exercise planned for September because of a lack of funding, which was widely seen by defense analysts as a move to pressure the government.

The defense budget in 2019 — the last year in which one was approved — was NIS 72.8 billion ($21.3 billion), which included funding not only for the IDF but for all other areas under the auspices of the Defense Ministry. In addition to that funding from the government, the State of Israel also received an additional NIS 13 billion ($3.8 billion) from the United States each year as military aid.

Due to the lack of a functioning government over the past year, the IDF has not had a formal budget through 2020 but has instead received one-twelfth the 2019 budget each month.

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