(June 28, 2019 / JNS) In recent days, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to add more than a billion shekels to the next defense budget. His promise is a reminder of a future battle brewing between Israel’s Finance Ministry and Defense Ministry over the size of the next defense budget.
The dispute is set to become even more intense in light of the 50 billion shekel government-spending deficit. Agreeing on a defense budget creates the basis for the Israel Defense Forces’ multi-year programs, which spell out exactly what the military should acquire, in what ways it should develop and adapt to changing circumstances, and how it can grow stronger in its capabilities in air, land and sea.
This year marks the final and fifth year of the IDF’s current multi-year program, which is known as “Gideon.” The Gideon plan was the first long-term program that had proved successfully in many years. Before it began in 2015, unstable governments and fights between ministries torpedoed long-term funding for previous programs. The IDF’s ability to prepare itself for war and build itself up suffered as a result.
‘Gaps can’t always be bridged’
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dr. Sasson Hadad, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), was a previous financial advisor to the IDF chief of staff and head of the budget division of the Defense Ministry. He took an active part in formulating the Defense Ministry’s multi-year budget, as part of the Gideon program.
Asked about how disruptive the current political chaos in Israel is to the IDF’s ability to formulate the next multi-year program, Hadad told JNS that “the disruption can be major. The IDF does not work without a multi-year program. Most of its projects are lengthy and are set ahead of time.”
Without a coordinated plan, the IDF’s force build-up would resemble “an orchestra” in which “everyone does what they want, and the noise is terrible,” he said.
With Gideon coming to an end, the fact that no Israeli government is around to pass the next budget will cause substantial delays, warned Hadad.
As a result, the IDF under the newly appointed Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, has begun preparing the next program without budgetary backing.
This creates “gaps that can’t always be bridged,” Hadad said, noting that before the Gideon plan, three former multi-year plans fell by the wayside because of a lack of government planning.
“In the first year, we should be running at full speed [to implement the multi-year program]. Stalling causes plans to lose momentum,” said Hadad.
In addition, differences of opinion exist between Netanyahu and Kochavi over what areas should be prioritized in the next IDF plan.
Hadad highlighted a number of issues that the next Israeli prime minister and military will have to agree on after a new coalition comes to power following the second round of elections this year on Sept. 17. The first is the actual size of the budget, he said, which will determine just how the IDF will develop in the coming years.
Netanyahu has asked for the next budget to be 6 percent of the GDP, “significantly bigger than it is now. The Finance Ministry completely opposes this,” said Hadad. “From my experience, the most important thing is that there will be a clear budget framework. Otherwise, there will endless arguments. Both ministries know how to fight with one another very well. We should set up the budget context and move forward. This is what we tried to do with Gideon, and it worked fairly well. There was still some friction, but mostly behind closed doors.”
In addition, differences of opinion exist between Kochavi and Netanyahu over how the IDF should build itself up. “Missiles versus the ground forces, submarines versus the air force, drones versus planes; these issues have been publicly discussed. If another prime minister other than Netanyahu comes to power, such as [Blue and White Party leader Benny] Gantz, there may be less friction over these issues,” said Hadad.
The next multi-year program, dubbed Tnufa (Hebrew for “momentum”), will also have to tackle the need to improve deterrence, according to Hadad, against enemies near and far. This includes the terror armies in Lebanon and Gaza, Iran and factoring in states that are today friendly, but could suddenly undergo revolutions and be led by hostile elements.
“The force build-up of these states is huge. They are importing not only American technology, where Israel has been assured an edge, but also Chinese technology, such as missiles,” noted Hadad.
In addition, the fact that the potential for conflict with Iran has risen substantially over the past year, after the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and Tehran threatened to restart its nuclear program, will have significant impact on the next budget and program, affirmed Hadad.
The arrival of accurate missiles in the region and cyber warfare will also play important roles in shaping the program.
‘Everything costs money when it comes to defense’
Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Nagel, a visiting professor at the Technion’s Aerospace Engineering Faculty in Haifa, served as the head of the National Security Council (NSC) from 2016 to 2017. He also served as the acting National Security Advisor to Netanyahu during that time.
Nagel told JNS that Gideon focused on building strong ground forces capable of conducting maneuvers in the depth of enemy territory. Nevertheless, he said, there was still massive investment in the Israeli Air Force and intelligence.
“This is the concept, and it will cost money,” he said. “Everything costs money when it comes to defense.”
The next multi-year plan will need to respond to the fact that modern warfare is moving towards the “empty battlefield” trend, in which combatants remain out of sight and those who are too visible are destroyed.
“We need to prepare for changes in the battlefield,” he said. “This includes robotics and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, although we are still dealing with asymmetric threats, we have to be able to deal with all types of threats, including classic war.”
The IDF must retain its ability to deal with state militaries, as well as the current semi-state and terror organization adversaries, he argued.
Since taking up his position in January 2015, Kochavi appointed a number of teams to work on ways for the IDF to up its force in the coming decade.
Nagel expressed hope that the political instability in Israel will be short-lived. “Gideon was held up because there was an alignment of interests,” he said.
Once a new government takes shape, it will “take a lot of time” to pass the next multi-year program, said Nagel. “There is involvement in drawing it up by the National Security Council, the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Mossad. Then there are lengthy cabinet sessions. And then there is approval.”