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Israel Sets New Military Priorities Amid Budget Cuts

Skyler Schmanski

Confronted with a staggering $11.2 billion budget deficit, the Israeli government passed a new budget earlier this year with sweeping spending cuts in a nearly unanimous vote. Israel’s military is facing a significant transformation in the wake of the budget shortfall at home and the Middle East’s changing security challenges.

The most ambitious reform since the 1990s, the five-year plan to reduce the military budget by approximately $830 million entails extensive monetary and personnel cuts to the ground, air, and naval forces. Even with the reductions, balancing the budget is still far from achieved; the Israeli army is projected to retain a $5.6 billion deficit. New fiscal priorities will mean less procurement of tanks, but an increase in intelligence gathering and cyber warfare capabilities. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said he is “not happy about the cuts,” but that “We’ll see the rewards in two to four years. Our forces might be diminished but will be stronger and better equipped.”

The security cabinet is likely to propose freezing development of the next-generation Merkava tank. (Photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz)

With the Arab Spring forcing neighboring nations to focus on internal divisions and political struggles, the Israeli government determined conventional warfare poses a diminishing threat compared to asymmetric conflict. The decision to make the transition has been, in large part, influenced by other countries’ efforts to contain the ensuing domestic turmoil following this month’s ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the escalating chaos of Syria’s nearly two-and-a-half-year-long civil war.

Rather than concentrating on using large armies to fight nation states, Israel will dedicate more resources to confronting terrorist organizations on its borders. For example, the IDF will focus on preventing hostile Islamist groups, such as Hezbollah, from acquiring advanced weaponry in Syria’s civil war. Hamas also poses another prominent threat and to that end Israel will invest more money in fortifying border defense forces to contain instability and smuggling around Gaza and Sinai.

While such progressive measures are being implemented, particularly those focused on increasing technological innovation, Israel will continue to hold a military advantage over its neighbors, even as the nature of the security threats in the Middle East evolve.