Israeli Army Budget Cuts: Hezbollah to the ‘Rescue’

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Camouflaged Israeli soldiers from a counter terrorism unit aim their rifles during a drill near Beit Shemesh, about 20km (12 miles) from Jerusalem, in terrain similar to Israel's northern front 3 October 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Amir Cohen)

By: Timur Goksel

Published Monday, October 17, 2011

The Israeli army is again facing budget cuts and needs a way out. Last week the Israeli cabinet approved a cut of 3 billion Israeli new shekels (NIS), or about US$820 million, from the IDF budget of NIS50 billion (US$13.7 billion). Soon you will see selected major media outlets printing maps of Lebanon with colorful dots that make every village a missile-launching base, an arms depot, or a command center, all of course seeking to destroy Israel. Some Israeli officials will pretend to be furious with the leak of such a “top secret” document and will ask “how come we are giving away such secret, precise intelligence?” And of course they will not question the precision of placing dots covering 500 square meters of every Lebanese village. The more dots the merrier and the more convincing concerns over budget cuts become.

Israeli defense officials will leak these reports as they usually do whenever they face budget cuts. It seems the only way they can get their funds restored is to unnerve their public with dangers they may face. The most fresh in the minds of Israelis is the threat of Hezbollah. But this time around they may get support from the “advanced weapons” Hamas is said to be smuggling to Gaza. You will note that the list of threats do not include any neighboring countries, because nobody in Israel will believe that these countries would launch a war.

The ‘logic’ goes like this: Hezbollah has amassed new, deadly, long-range weapons that are capable of reaching all corners of Israel. Remember those scary Scuds Saddam Hussein fired on Israel during the first Gulf War. Yes, Hezbollah has them too. Don’t forget the daily transfer of convoys of weapons from Syria to Lebanon, because Hezbollah is worried about the situation in Syria that could lead to the loss of control of those weapons. Hezbollah is now likely to have advanced air defense missiles that threaten those eternally essential Israeli flights over Lebanon, so much so that the Israeli air force has curtailed these flights and allows only the most veteran pilots to fly them. Without those eyes in the sky, the Israeli people cannot be protected properly. Never mind that nobody, including scores of intelligence officers of all stripes frolicking in Lebanon, has seen any of these weapons. They will likely attribute these reports to the always phenomenal Israeli intelligence and everyone is expected to believe it.

Sometimes the map ploy is so overdone and obvious, Israel’s own media pokes fun at it. In July 2010, a report in the Israeli daily Maariv had the following headline: “The IDF is using Hezbollah in the battle over the budget.” The report went on to say, citing senior Finance Ministry officials: “It’s interesting how every time the military budget is on the table, they release from the stocks Hizbullah’s missile array and expose sensitive classified material.”

When the cuts were announced last week, military experts, of whom there are plenty in Israel, rapidly came out with dire predictions that the IDF cannot maintain their level of readiness for more than a year. Training exercises for units may have to be curtailed. Remember how the army was criticized severely after the 2006 war with Hezbollah for cutting down on exercises. An air force expert warned: “We hope we don’t have to ground air force squadrons.” Israelis know that their air force is their most potent weapon against their enemies. Closer to the home front, if the purchase of the Iron Dome system that was to protect Israeli cities against short-range rocket attacks are limited, people will be truly scared. And, those Magic Wand and Arrow-3 missile defense systems designed to intercept medium- and long-range missiles, such as those Iran can fire for example, will they be put on hold? Remember how Hezbollah knocked out so many IDF tanks? Well, the active protection system designed to defend the formidable Merkava tanks against Hezbollah’s anti-tank missiles will now be on hold. Soldiers, your sons, might be killed with these budget cuts.

I wonder if they will still go ahead with development and purchase of those unmanned robotic scout cars that were to lead the Israeli armored columns into Lebanon without endangering the lives of their soldiers. Must cost lots of money.

Timur Goksel is a conflict management instructor at the American University of Beirut. He was a long-term senior adviser to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect al-Akhbar's editorial policy.


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