TEL AVIV – The Iranian threat in Syria and elsewhere prompted Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday to call for an increase in military spending of more than $1 billion over the next three years.
According to Liberman, an additional NIS 4.8 billion ($1.37 billion) will need to be included immediately in the 2020 defense budget since the previous figure from 2015 did not account for the dramatic changes resulting from the Syrian civil war.
“There’s a significant change in the security situation in the region, which necessitates an increase in the defense budget,” the Times of Israel quoted Liberman as saying. “In order to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens, we must add to the budget.”
The annual defense budgets of 2016 and 2017 stood at around NIS 70 billion ($19.9 billion), a quarter of which came from American military aid.
The defense minister outlined three primary threats: the enormous Russian presence in Syria; the spread of advanced weapons to terror groups, including the Iranian proxy Hezbollah; and a “dramatic acceleration” in the Iranian military presence.
“This is not just a source of concern for us. The Arab League spoke in Egypt about Iran’s rapid arms build-up,” Liberman said, in reference to a Sunday meeting of Arab states.
Since the 2015 signing of the nuclear deal, Iran has increased its defense spending at a faster rate than Israel has, Liberman noted. In April, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted that Tehran’s military budget has increased by 145% during his four years in office.
Liberman said the “situation is fragile and volatile” and further noted the shortages of bomb shelters in northern Israel, which will be critical in the case of war with Hezbollah.
“This is a population that will not get up and build [shelters] for itself. If the state wants to ensure the safety of civilians, it needs to get in there as quickly as possible,” he said.
On Saturday, Liberman called on Arab states to make peace with Israel in order to create a coalition against Iran.