Israel’s 2014 military budget includes at least 10 billion shekels devoted to preparations for war with Iran, Haaretz newspaper reports. Top Jerusalem officials recently said that Israel may strike Tehran’s nuclear sites even without US help. The Tel Aviv daily cited three parliamentarians who had been present at joint committee meetings at the Knesset earlier this year, where figures of 10 to 12 billion shekels (US$2.89 billion to $3.47 billion) were touted by senior Israel Defense Forces officials. The sum is being spent on preparing for an air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, even if it does not take place. It constitutes about one-fifth of the total military budget – about the same amount that was spent last year.
The parliamentarians said they questioned the decision to maintain funding in view of Tehran’s softening relations with the West, only to be told by army commanders that Israel’s political leaders ordered them to continue regardless. While the world’s leading powers have eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for its curtailing of its nuclear enrichment program – and have been negotiating in Vienna this week – Israel has remained steadfast in its belief that Tehran is attempting to develop its own nuclear weapons, and is using the talks to buy themselves time and economic relief.
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon criticized the US for wishful thinking during its attempts to find a diplomatic solution. “Weakness certainly does not pay in the world,” Yaalon told students at Tel Aviv University. “No one can replace the US as the world’s policeman. I hope the US will come to its senses.” Yaalon, who represents Prime Minister Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party, further reiterated his superior’s claims that Israel needed to act preemptively. “If we wished others would do the work for us, it wouldn’t be done soon, and therefore in this matter, we have to behave as if we can only rely on ourselves,” said Yaalon.
Netanyahu has also persisted with the line he held during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s abrasive presidency, despite the tentative ‘charm offensive’ that Iran has undertaken since the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani replaced Ahmadinejad less than a year ago “Letting the worst terrorist regime on the planet get atomic bombs would endanger everyone, and it certainly would endanger Israel since Iran openly calls for our destruction,” Netanyahu said in a speech this month. Tehran insists that it has no plans to manufacture nuclear arms, and even Israel’s own intelligence agency now believes that there has been a “strategic change” in Iran’s nuclear stance since last year, according to an earlier Haaretz report.
Nonetheless, the latest talks in Vienna – where Iran has faced the US, China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany – have not produced a concrete outcome. Adding to the long-established issues of access to existing facilities and the extent of Iran’s enrichment and stockpiling of plutonium – a key ingredient in nuclear devices – is a yet-to-be-finished nuclear reactor at Arak.
Western negotiators say the facility in its current form could be used for plutonium enrichment and should be modified, while Tehran insists its uses will be chiefly medical. The two sides have set themselves a July 20 deadline, by which a definitive agreement has to be produced on the country’s nuclear program. But for Israel’s leaders, each month without concrete action is one month closer to Tehran possessing its own nuclear weapons – meaning that vast expenditures to ready for a strike are as necessary as ever.