Analysis: Is Israel spending enough on defense?

The only Middle East nation cutting its defense spending, ironically, is Israel.

tanks lined up 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tanks lined up 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Middle East is embroiled not only by conflict, but also by an arms race. Countries from Syria and Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, are investing more money than ever in defense. The only country cutting its spending, ironic as it might be, is Israel. Over the last decade, Middle Eastern states have continued to rank among the leading arms buyers in the world. Between 1997 and 2004, the region received nearly $102 billion worth of weapons, constituting 36.37 percent of worldwide arms deliveries. While China and the US still lead the world in defense expenditure, Middle East countries are increasing their spending - except for Israel, which is spending less, even following the disappointing results of the summer's war in Lebanon. Since 2002, the defense budget, officials claim, has been reduced by a total of NIS 17 billion. In 2002 the defense budget was NIS 39.5b.; in 2003 it stood at NIS 36.25b.; in 2004 at NIS 35.4b.; and in 2005 at NIS 35b. The way things look now, the 2006 budget will be NIS 34.7b. While the threats grow, Israel's budget only shrinks. American government sources put Saudi Arabia, with arms deliveries between 2001 and 2004 totaling $19b., as the top arms buyer in the region, according to the newly-released Middle East Strategic Balance for 2005-2006, put out by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University. Another country with a growing defense budget is Turkey, which boosted its defense budget in 2005 by some $2.5b. to a total of $11.73b. Then there are Israel's enemies, who are increasing their defense spending every year. Most recently, Syria increased its spending by some 37.3%. Iran's defense outlay has jumped by 25%. Egypt, which - like Israel - receives military aid from the US ($1.3b.), also continues to increase spending on advanced weaponry. Since 2000, it has increased its budget by 28.8%. "The trend around the world is to spend more on defense," a top general said Wednesday. "Only in Israel are we cutting the defense budget." On a per capita basis, Israel spends more on defense than any other country in the world - far and away, much more than its enemies. Still, one has to wonder whether it spends enough, in light of the way those countries are investing in improving their fighting capabilities. Israel's strategic assessment for 2007 predicts a higher chance for regional conflict. War with Syria and Lebanon is considered a definite possibility, and Iran is expected to cross the "technological threshold" and master the technology needed to produce nuclear weapons. The IDF's workplan for the year includes developing means to counter Western weapons in the hands of Israel's neighbors. While the assessment does not name those neighbors, it hints at Egypt, whose regime is considered unstable. While the IDF encountered bigger problems than defense cuts during the second Lebanon war - such as a faulty battle doctrine and inexperienced commanders - continued budget reductions, senior members of the General Staff warn, will weaken Israel and strengthen its enemies.•