PM: Rethink defense needs in wake of Arab Spring

Gov't sources say Netanyahu gingerly referring to need to recalibrate resources and increase defense spending to deal with possible regional threats.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ill winds blowing through the Arab Spring will force Israel to rethink its overall security needs, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, a day before Egypt was due to start its parliamentary elections.
Discussing the management of the country’s finances, the prime minister said Israel faced pressure on its economy from “threats and dramatic geopolitical changes occurring here in the region.”
While Netanyahu did not want to “go into details,” he said it was clear that after 30 years of constancy in Egypt and regional stability as a result of the peace treaty with Cairo, the current changes would “certainly raise various questions, and this is – of course – in addition to the missile and other threats to the State of Israel.”
According to government sources, Netanyahu was gingerly referring to the need to recalibrate the country’s resources and increase defense spending to deal with possible regional threats Israel has not had to face since the peace treaty was signed in 1979.
“There was a lot of talk about where the Arab Spring was going,” one government source said, explaining Netanyahu’s rather opaque public comments about the country’s security needs. “But it appears now that it is not going in a good direction.”
Noted the source, who was in the cabinet meeting, “There were elections in Tunisia, and the Islamists won. There were elections in Morocco over the weekend, and the Islamists won. People here are very concerned about Egypt. It looks now as if the revolution is going in a certain direction. Wherever the Arabs vote, the Islamists are winning.”
The source said that while during times of economic crisis in the 1990s, funds had not had to be diverted to deal with threats coming from Egypt, this was no longer the case in these volatile days of what Netanyahu has referred to in recent weeks as “unprecedented regional instability” and the biggest shakeup in the area since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
As a result, the source said, Netanyahu was hinting to his ministers that there was a need to invest heavily in defense so various new regional challenges could be met.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz did not dispute that the defense budget needed a boost to face the current challenges, but said it received an additional supplement of NIS 100 billion over a number of years as a result of findings of the 2007 Brodet Commission report, which looked into defense spending. He said the report had taken terrorists, missiles and a nuclear threat into consideration, and the recommended supplement was adequate to cover the current regional situation.
Steinitz also pointed out that when he was chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee five years ago, he had warned that the country could soon find itself facing a security threat from Egypt.
“We are rightfully concerned,” he said. “We still don’t know what will happen in Egypt.”