Netanyahu and Kahlon must allocate the budget for protecting the North

Let there be no doubt: Those budgets are available.

An Iron Dome battery deployed in the north of Israel following concerns of airstrikes from Syria, May 9, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An Iron Dome battery deployed in the north of Israel following concerns of airstrikes from Syria, May 9, 2018
In recent weeks, Israel is reaping important successes on the military and diplomatic fronts: the impressive achievement of the Mossad, which sent its forces all the way into the nuclear archives in Tehran; the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear-deal framework; the preventive strikes by the Israel Air Force in Syria; and management of the so-called March of Return on the Gaza Strip border with no deaths or serious wounds on our side.
Against these developments the question arises: Is the home front ready for an escalation and a full-scale war? As defense minister during the Second Lebanon War, I came to understand just how essential the readiness of the home front is during a state of emergency. Primarily, investing in the home front means saving lives.
During the 2006 war, the exposed home front made it very difficult to manage the operation since one eye had to be focused on the offensive against Hezbollah while the second had to follow the strikes made against civilian targets in Haifa and other parts in the North.
The effective protection of the home front also lowers the motivation of the enemy. We are happy to identify a great frustration among the ranks of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a terror organization that seems to have given up on waging an additional war against us and pleads with our government to accept a long-term ceasefire.
AS A defense minister who did not come from the army leadership, and as a resident of Sderot, I knew all too well the meaning of rockets and mortar shells being fired at the South.
In parallel to the efforts to rehabilitate the IDF following the war in the North, I commenced the intensive process of building up passive defenses (reinforced spaces for every house on the border, and shelters in public buildings) and active defenses (such as the Iron Dome anti-missile system).
Recently added to that is the army’s technology for eradicating Hamas’s terror tunnels.
The test that should guide decision-makers is whether Israel’s citizens can reasonably maintain their routine during wartime. The south of Israel proves we can make it happen and that all systems can operate well in times of conflict. But in the North, the situation is much different.
In recent weeks, the public was exposed to alarming data from discussions I led in the Knesset subcommittee I chair.
The head of the IDF’s Home Front Command, Maj.-Gen.
Tamir Yadai, warned that 2.5 million Israeli citizens weren’t protected and that within 100 kilometers from the northern border there were 150,000 unprotected buildings.
We divided that territory into three areas.
The immediate level extends to 9 km. from the border, where the state must assume full responsibility over shortages in shelters, including those on private property. The second level extends from 9 km. to 20 km. It requires immediate protection for all public buildings, including sensitive infrastructure, schools, and synagogues that currently lack reinforced spaces.
At the third level, encompassing the rest of the country, few residences built before the first Gulf War of 1991 have reinforced spaces. Accordingly, entire cities across the land are without protection. The bill “Protected Space for Every Citizen,” which MK Avi Dichter and I will present to the Knesset next week, is meant to incentivize the building of reinforced spaces wherever they do not currently exist.
This past Wednesday, after repeated calls by my subcommittee for protecting the North, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman presented the main components of his plan. It is a vital and necessary plan for protecting the North, although it doesn’t address the needs of the rest of the country.
What isn’t clear from Liberman’s announcement is whether he and the Finance Ministry have in fact agreed upon a budgetary source for the NIS 5 billion required to realize the plan.
Let there be no doubt: Those budgets are available.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon take pride time and time again in large surpluses in tax revenues, mostly due to large sales in hi-tech. In the past quarter alone, the state gained an unexpected NIS 1.6b.
So far, these surpluses in tax revenues have been used for tax deductions. Consequently, average- and high-salary earners receive an additional NIS 100 NIS in their monthly wages.
Netanyahu and Kahlon must adopt a principled decision to invest surplus tax revenues in the coming year in closing essential gaps in every future military confrontation.
I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of those who would be potentially entitled to a minor tax break (as an alternative use of surpluses in tax revenues, favored hitherto by the government) would prefer seeing their taxes invested in protecting the millions of citizens who are currently exposed.
Former defense minister Amir Peretz is an MK who chairs the Knesset Subcommittee for Home Front Readiness.