Eshel: Lack of budget has significant impact on Israel’s Defense Ministry

Amir Eshel, director-general of the Defense Ministry says they are running on ‘what was’ which does not allow for planning .

Amir Eshel, Director-General of the Defense Ministry (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Amir Eshel, Director-General of the Defense Ministry
The lack of a government budget for the coming year and the ongoing health, economic, and political crises plaguing the country has had a significant impact on the Defense Ministry and its procurement plans.
“When there is no budget and no priorities are set for the economy, there is no long-term planning capability,” said Defense Ministry director-general Maj.-Gen.(ret.) Amir Eshel on Monday.
“We are going on last year’s budget. This means that the state has not set new priorities. We are told you will get along on the basis of what was. But if you want to change you have to understand that the previous year’s budget does not necessarily fit what is needed. And that’s very worrisome,” he added.
Even before the onset of the pandemic, the Defense Ministry and IDF were facing hurdles in securing a budget due to the lengthy paralysis that gripped the Israeli political system. While a unity government was formed in May, the turmoil remains and no budget has been agreed to.
Instead, Israel once again faces a possible election.
Israel’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and is expected to contract in 2020 for the first time in nearly two decades.
And though the defense establishment will likely be the ministry least affected by the deficit – it has the highest budget of any government ministry – which is estimated to reach between 10% to 11% by the end of 2020, it is not immune and has already cut reserve training in order to save.
“We are not blind to what’s happening in the country,” Eshel said, referring to the unprecedented health, financial and social crises in the country due to the pandemic.
The defense ministry even presented a plan to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz dubbed “Security Blanket” which would open up some 12,000 jobs, including in the periphery, which would, in turn, inject millions of shekels into the economy. They were told the NIS 4-5 billion plan was too expensive.
But, Eshel said, the defense ministry cannot wait any longer because if there’s no budget by the end of the year, they will be operating on a partial budget from 2020, which is already running on a budget from 2019.
The IDF “urgently” needs new air platforms, said the former Commander of the Air Force, referring to Israel’s fleet of Re’em Boeing 707 tanker aircrafts which are close to 60 years old, the Yasur heavy-lift helicopters that are close to 50 years and fighter jets.
“There is no country in the world that flies platforms that are this old. To fly a re-fueler or a helicopter with more than 50 soldiers inside is not trivial. These are non-trivial risk levels. If God forbid something happens, what would we say to ourselves? Our operational and safety needs are paramount. There is no other way to present it.”
And despite a second wave of the coronavirus now raging, Israel’s enemies have resumed their hostile activity, with rockets launched from the Gaza Strip and a tense northern border following threats by Hezbollah to retaliate for the death of one of its operatives in an alleged Israeli airstrike.
“Were they required for a large-scale confrontation, these platforms, which should be available, relevant, and vital, will not be at the required scale and availability,” he said.
In addition, the political atmosphere in the United States and the normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain makes it so that the military needs to continue to move forward with procuring what it can afford.
“There have always been very strong defense ties, no matter if there are political differences,” Eshel said. “There’s a deep commitment.”
That deep commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) led Defense Minister Benny Gantz to send him and a delegation to Washington to work on a plan to secure the country’s QME. Recalling the chain of events, Eshel said that he called Gantz on a Tuesday and on Thursday the deal was signed with then-secretary of defense Mark Esper who has since been fired by President Donald Trump.
“It is a really good, strong deal. It will be respected by the following governments. The agreement we signed will ensure Israel’s relative advantage for decades,” Eshel, who has been involved in security deals since 2009 said. “Had we missed that opportunity...” who knows.
Eshel also said that the normalization deals with the Gulf States “are an opportunity” where Israel can strengthen and increase its defense exports during a time where the global defense market will shrink as countries invest more in health.
The ensuing competition will make the major players more aggressive and Israel, therefore, needs to strengthen its defense exports which will in turn strengthen Israel’s qualitative advantage and economy, Eshel explained.
“It is no secret that the State of Israel has relations with the Gulf states, even before the normalization agreement, including defense exports. The normalization agreement says these countries have decided to go public. There have been sales in the past but I guess that on the shopping list of the Emirates there are things we have not confirmed before.”