Feeling the Pinch
From today's edition of the World Tribune comes word that the Israel's military is feeling a budget squeeze, and the impact is being felt by operational forces.
Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Kenesset member (and former Deputy Defense Minister) told the paper that Israeli defense strength has decreased by up to 30% over the past four years, due to budget cuts. With the current defense budget, "we're scratching the bottom" he observed. Earlier this week, the Israeli cabinet approved a $113 million reduction in the current defense budget, and rejected the defense ministry's request for a multi-year spending plan.
Because of the cutbacks, the Israelis are cancelling or delaying a number of key programs, mostly for the Israeli Army and Navy. The reduction will affect virtually all systems not financed by U.S. military aid (which totals $2.2 billion a year), ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles and naval combatants, to new variants of the Merkava main battle tank.
This is not to say that Israel's national security is in grave jeopardy. The Israeli military remains the preeminent power in the region, and remains more than capable of decisively defeating any regional adversary. But the nation's budget woes will affect both near and long-term modernization efforts, forcing Israeli ground and naval forces to make do with older, albeit proven combat systems.
Readers will also note that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) will be relatively unaffected by the cutbacks. And with good reason. With its long-range strike fighters (the F-15I and F-16I) and ballistic missiles the IAF remains the primary guarantor of Israel's national security. As the Iranian threat continues to grow, the Israelis will do nothing that might impair their ability to strike at Tehran, either preemptively or reactively. Israel's missile defense systems also appear to have surived the budget wars, and will remain fully funded.
Beyond belt-tightening, the Israel's defense budget problems will produce other effects as well. It's almost a given that Tel Aviv will ask the U.S. for a substantial hike in defense aid, and there will be more pressure for intelligence sharing. With some UAV programs facing cuts, the argument goes, Israel will need greater access to U.S. intel systems. I'm guessing that Israel will get much of what it asks for. Politically and militarily, we can't afford to let Israel's military power go into a prolonged tail spin, even if some of the "tales of woe" may be a bit exaggerated.