Israel Can’t Afford to Be Distracted from the Iranian Threat

April 14, 2020 | Jacob Nagel and Jonathan Schanzer
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In February, the IDF chief of staff unveiled a five-year plan to equip the Israeli military to confront the newest threats—especially that posed by increasing Iranian penetration into Syria. But now funding for this project is threatened by the fiscal pressures of the coronavirus pandemic and Jerusalem’s efforts to protect the country from its economic effects. Jacob Nagel and Jonathan Schanzer examine the bind in which this places Israel:

The distribution of public funds in Israel has always been a rather straightforward process. Defense gets the first priority, followed by entitlements, health, and education. But this will all likely to change now, given the greater needs in the healthcare sector and the economic fallout [of COVID-19]. It is almost certain that the multiyear defense plan will be affected by these changes. But the government must not cut IDF plans too deep. The plan is crucial for the country if it is to face future threats properly.

The U.S. exit from the flawed 2015 nuclear agreement has prompted Iran to test the patience of the international community by violating the terms of the deal. . . . Israeli decisionmakers and the IDF general staff are therefore placing the Iranian nuclear program back at the top of the list of immediate threats. This means the IDF must maintain readiness and develop operational capability to stop the project (pending political decisions) in the next few years.

The importance of these plans and upgrades are difficult to overstate. Yet, the budget required . . . may not be available. This is not because the threats have dissipated, but because for the first time in the history of the country, funding the IDF will not be the top priority. . . . But this must be [nothing more than] a temporary shift. Iran continues to arm and fund its proxies. It continues to advance its nuclear program. And the regime’s behavior could become more reckless, particularly if it is able to convince the international community to grant sanctions relief.

To enhance its security further, Israel has now an opportunity to work jointly with the United States to develop weapons and technologies of the future, such as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, quantum sensors, super-computing, and more. Such cooperation should not be centered around security assistance, but rather the joint harnessing of technological capabilities and ingenuity that can benefit both countries well into the future.

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