Amir Hetsroni

Bill Please! The Hidden Costs of War

Gaza at war
Gaza at War

Sorely missing from any debate about the war are questions about the cost. When a customer is about to buy something, even if that something is inevitable product like life saving medicine, he asks about the price. Even if he is in principle committed to pay any price, the question “how much” is still significant since he needs to flash the cash or iron the credit card.

War is not different. There is a cost which we will need to cover by paying heavier taxes, through delving into our savings, by lowering our standard of living, or by taking loans which we will need to pay back with interest. This is the A-B-C of Economy. Yet, it seems unheard of, certainly anti-patriotic, to ask about the cost since “there is no price to human life”. However, there is a price; even concrete tariff. When a soldier dies at battlefield – his family receives a monthly stipend of nearly 10,000 Shekels plus perks such as subsidized studies, controlled rent, etc. This is the value of life of an Israeli soldier not according to me but according to the Israeli authorities. More generally, courts know very well how to calculate loss of life and loss of crucial organs due to accidents.

I do not know how much exactly will be the overall cost of the current war, mainly because our government intentionally avoids sharing figures which are crucial to the calculation. I know that over 350,000 reserve soldiers have been in service since the seventh of October. The approximate remuneration they get from social insurance (assuming their salary is the national average) is around 175 million shekels daily – more or less the annual budget of a small governmental ministry. Across a period of 50 days, we talk about aggregated social insurance remuneration of eight billions and seven hundred fixity million shekels, but the war is not over and this is just a fraction of its cost. We need to add the loss of production (a reservist who fights in Gaza obviously is not working simultaneously as an engineer or a programmer), the erosion of economic sectors (has anyone seen a tourist recently?), the cost of weapons and ammunition, the cost of rebuilding villages destroyed by Hamas, and more and more. All these numbers are not shared by the government who is busy fighting with Hamas. They do not even describe concretely the purpose of the war beyond clichés such as “eliminating Hamas”. It sounds very noble not give up to terror; a bit more mafia style to promise vendetta – but regardless of aim and motivation, a country cannot conduct a war without considering the price. Sooner or later, the bill will be submitted. A country we can be be more flexible with the payment schedule than a plain loaner. Nobody will put the State of Israel in prison just because it does not pay its loans on time, but we may be signaled as credit risk like Venezuela for instance and thus we might be denied further loans. Remember how the supermarkets looked at the beginning of the war? This can be just a preamble to what awaits for us, if we fight without thinking about the cost and become a credit risk country with whom no sane company wants to do business.

What do I suggest? Without knowing exact figures which the Israeli government does not share (because they are horrific?) it is impossible to suggest a concrete alternative. I cannot recommend stopping the war now, or next week, or next month, but I can safely say that it is about time to start thinking out loud about the financial cost and not adhere to myths such as “life of a single abductee is priceless,” since even if this abductee is rescued from Gaza – he may die from a curable disease because of limited supply of medicine due to economic crash.

About the Author
Amir Hetsroni was a faculty member at Ariel University in the West Bank. He is emigrating from Israel in order to miss the next war, earn higher wages, enjoy cooler summers, and obtain a living package that is cost-effective. He has three passports and does not feel particularly worried about anti-Semitism.
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