To tighten Israel’s defense budget, stop making tanks

Israel’s Cabinet and the defense community gathered yesterday to discuss the national defense budget. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF reportedly presented several alternatives for bolstering the army in the mid-term. Thus, the Cabinet, which is being called upon to decide between the various alternatives, will become responsible for the IDF’s future ability to meet defense challenges.

The nature of alternatives is that they are supposedly fictitious; that is to say, they pose decision-makers with no choice but to approve the recommendations of the defense community. The media has reported that several alternatives were presented at the gathering, including cutting the budget for the procurement of tanks, or aircraft, or missile defense systems.

Supposedly, all three systems are vital to the security of Israel; however, one of the alternatives is in fact very positive and points at a fundamental change in the IDF’s focus in the face of existing and future challenges.

The first alternative is to cut missiles defense systems, which are essential not only for the protection of the citizens of Israel, but for achieving freedom of action for the country’s decision-makers, as well. The second alternative, to limit the procurement of aircraft and unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV), is impractical, since the main procurement deals for the next 10 years have been already signed.

Compared to these two alternatives, the third option — to halt the production of tanks — is useful and productive. It is quite clear that in near- and mid-term wars, armored divisions will not conquer the Suez Canal or Damascus. It is also clear that they will not penetrate Iran. The roles of armored units will be to defend Israel’s borders and complement missions that will be accomplished from the sea or from the air. The current sizable Armored Corps can fulfill these two roles without requiring significant financial resources.

A decision to cut off the tank program may also mean cutting funding for the NAMER armored personnel vehicle, another useless program that has already cost upwards of NIS 10 billion. Cutting off funding of these two projects may lead to reductions in some derivatives such as spare parts, logistics, manpower and much more, and may save a few extra billion shekels.

“Oz,” the procurement plan for the next five years, is based on a conservative approach and obsolete operational concepts that force the IDF and the Defense Ministry to procure systems that do nothing to enhance Israel’s capacity to meet the existing and future threats.

The prudent decision is obvious; the question is whether Israel’s political and military leadership is courageous enough to direct the Defense Ministry to do away with the unnecessary programs.

About the Author
Colonel (res) Shmuel L Gordon has a PhD in International Relations and Strategic Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has written several books and hundreds of essays on national security, decision-making, strategy, air warfare, and counter-insurgency conflicts. He had a distinguished career in the Israeli Air Force as a fighter pilot and commander. He is the winner of Yitzhak Sade Prize for Defense Literature, the Karmon Prize for Research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and And the Ben Gurion Prize for Security study from the General Histadrut.