Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing to advance a huge air-defense project aimed at countering the threat of an attack from Iran, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.
The NIS 1 billion ($290 million) project would place particular focus on defending the country against cruise missile attacks, similar to strikes on Saudi oil facilities last month blamed on Iran.
Treasury officials told the Kan broadcaster that the air-defense project has been under discussion for some time, but that much of the funding can only be approved after the next government is sworn in. Coalition and unity government talks have made no progress since elections last month failed to resolve a political deadlock that began after previous elections in April.
The Finance Ministry has put forward some options for funding the defense project, including from the Defense Ministry’s existing budget. However, that option seems unlikely, the report said, and costs are more likely to be covered by cutbacks in civilian budgeting and tax increases.
On Sunday, the high-level security cabinet convened for the first time in two months, amid cryptic warnings by Israeli leaders in recent days of a growing security threat from Iran. The meeting began in the late afternoon and continued for nearly six hours.
The discussions are based on concerns that Iran, emboldened by a recent string of attacks that drew no military response from the West or its Middle Eastern foes, could set its sights on attacking Israel, Channel 12 reported.
Officials believe Iran may have publicized information about an allegedly foiled “Israel-Arab” plot to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a pretense to attack Israel, according to Channel 12.
Both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have mentioned crucial security needs in recent days as they called for the formation of a broad unity government.
Netanyahu, during a speech Thursday at the swearing-in of the new Knesset, also called for a “broad national unity government,” saying the country’s security challenges demanded political stability.
“This isn’t spin, it’s not a whim, this is not ‘Netanyahu trying to scare us,’” he said. “Anyone who knows the situation knows that Iran is getting stronger and is attacking around the world, saying clearly, ‘Israel will disappear.’ They believe it, they are working toward it, we need to take them seriously.”
Netanyahu has sought to press rival Blue and White to join a coalition led by him and including right-wing and Haredi parties. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has so far refused to sit in a coalition with Netanyahu, as long as the Likud leader faces corruption indictments, and is also unwilling to join a government made of hard-right and ultra-Orthodox parties. Blue and White has said a unity government with Likud could be formed “within an hour” if Netanyahu were to step down.
A September 14 cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities knocked out half the kingdom’s oil production. Although Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran of being behind the attack.
Iran regularly threatens Israel, viewing the country as a powerful enemy allied with the United States and Sunni countries in the region against Tehran and its nuclear ambitions.
Israel has also thwarted Iranian operations in neighboring Syria where its fighters and those of Iranian proxy Hezbollah have been fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since 2011.
Israel has vowed to prevent Iran’s regional proxy militias from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria that it says were to prevent deliver of weapons and to stop Iranian military entrenchment in that country.