Last week was a dubious one for the world’s most advanced militaries.
In the U.S., Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before the House Armed Service Committee on October 13, saying that any further cuts to defense will hollow out the force and risk national security. Meanwhile, in Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on October 10 against current defense cuts to the Israel Defense Force, saying that Israel’s missile defense system (Iron Dome) would be slowed and one-third of the Israel Air Force and 20 percent of its Merkava tanks would also be put on inactive status.
The cuts come at a particular bad time for both Israel and the U.S.
Israel is dealing with an unnerving uncertainty with its neighbors because of the Arab Spring. The peace treaty with Egypt is now feared to be on shaky ground. The ousting of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has left a vacuum for the radically inspired and most politically organized group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips spells out the ramifications of an ascension to power for the Brotherhood in his article. In short, the Brotherhood would eventually build a totalitarian Islamic state and “further destabilize an already volatile region and deal a disastrous blow to American power and influence in the Middle East.” The implications for Israel should be obvious.
This unnerving uncertainty goes beyond Israel’s bordering neighbors. It travels also to Turkey, with the unraveling of diplomatic, military, and trade relations. It continues to Iran, with the unending anti-Semitic rhetoric and incorrigible nuclear and regional ambitions. It even travels as far as the U.S., with the cold stance President Obama has taken diplomatically with Israel.
Despite pressure, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed off on $1.2 billion in cuts, which the Israeli defense department maintains is actually $2.4 billion in real terms. Unprecedented protests all over Israel for better funding of social programs are largely the catalyst for the reduction. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz maintains that Israel can afford to cut defense given recent raises, and Netanyahu agrees that security will not be jeopardized.
Even with recent victories against terrorists, Secretary Panetta warns that the U.S. faces continued threats from terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyberspace, and rising regional powers. As can be witnessed with the recent Iranian assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the boldness of rising regional powers that look unfavorably upon the U.S. cannot be underestimated. The U.S. military may be called on at a moment’s notice in order to conduct a major contingency operation, and a hollow force will be incapable of responding adequately.
In both Israel and the United States, the socioeconomic situation is dire enough to warrant a revamping in defense spending, but they should not be so reckless that other revenue spending avenues are not also considered.
Val Jensen II is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.