Israeli Defence Forces prime themselves for recession

After the defeat of the Israeli army in Lebanon two years ago, the Israeli Defence Forces have been trying to win back their image as the only real defenders of the people in Israel. Now they are constantly provoking Syria in the hope that Syria will hit back, something it seems unwilling to do.

In these days, the Israeli army has launched the biggest military manoeuvres - or war games ‑ in this country's history. The manoeuvres include calling up reserves and civilians. Even the Israeli government itself has been "recruited". The manoeuvres will simulate, among other things, a Syrian missile attack on Israel. During the manoeuvres, civilians, including children, will be forced to practice running for shelters and so forth in order to "test" their "readiness" for war.

The manoeuvres follow numerous warnings issued by the army's intelligence bureau. Among other things, they claim that poverty stricken Syria is planning on launching a war against Israel. The intelligence officers claim that the Syrians "understand the price of such a war", but nevertheless they are willing to pay it.

This is possibly as ridiculous as claiming that Albania is planning a war against France, for the balance of power between Syria and Israel is just as striking. Despite all this, and despite the fact that the Israeli intelligence bureau has been wrong about almost all of its predictions, these warnings are being taken very seriously by many Israelis who have been brought up to believe the Arabs to be irrational and capable of any insane act, just for the sake of killing as many Jews as possible.

Both the present manoeuvres and the intelligence warnings, however, come against the background of the army bureaucracy's material interests, that have very little to do with the security of the Israeli people. As all economic "experts" agree, Israel is heading for a recession, or at least to a period of much slower rate of growth.

Stanley Fischer, the chairman of the Israeli central bank, has been constantly lowering his predictions for economic growth in Israel over the coming year. His panic attempts to stop the unavoidable, which included further cuts in interest rates and buying up hundreds of millions of dollars from the market, have only made things worse. Despite these moves, the dollar has kept on plummeting relative to the shekel (NIS), which has big implications for Israel's export-oriented economy.

The over-inflated military bureaucracy is very concerned about these signals of a coming recession. It is their greatest fear that the Treasury Department will start cutting Israel's astronomic defence budget. Over the past decade, the military budget has increased substantially after a period of stabilization in the 1990s and it is currently approximately 9% of the country's GDP (a 1% increase in comparison to 2005). It now stands at NIS50 billion. To understand what this means, in the same year, the budget for education in Israel was NIS27.5 billion and for health it was NIS18.3 billion.

Not all of this money, however, goes on military expenditure. The budget for retired officers' pensions increased from NIS1.5 billion in the late 1990s to a staggering well over NIS4 billion in 2008. Israel's Treasury Department does not publish the amount of the defence budget that goes on salaries for the serving officers, but it is obviously much larger than the amount spent on pensions.

As if this were not enough, the army always asks for (and usually receives) more funds from the government that can be more than NIS10 billion. All this while the budgets for health, education and welfare are steadily decreasing. The Treasury Department has already expressed its intention to cut this enormous and disproportionate military budget. A period of recession accompanied by a relatively low level of security threats could prompt the all-powerful Treasury bureaucrats to sink their budget cutting teeth into the plump flesh of the defence budget.

With this in mind, the army officers have an obvious interest in issuing frightening security threats to the public and the government in order to build up pressure against the Treasury Department. Their terrifying warnings are something Israelis have become accustomed to over the years, so they have to become more creative, and each year come up with ever more fantastic horror stories about what is to come if Israel does not put security at the top of the national agenda.

Unfortunately, the army is going well beyond mere horror stories in an attempt to build up pressure on the Treasury. In the summer of 2006, the war against Lebanon was first and foremost a war against the Treasury Department. That year, demands came from every corner for cuts in the over-inflated defence budget. The victory of (the then) left reformist Amir Peretz in the elections for chairman of the Israeli Labour Party was a worrying signal that Israeli society might put social and economic issues before those of security. In that context, the war was the initiative of the then Chief-of-Staff of the army, Dan Halutz, who used media trickery in order to push Peretz (who was the then Defence Minister) and Ehud Olmert the Prime Minister into declaring war on Lebanon.

This scheme did not go quite as planned. It did prove successful in the sense that the following year the army was allocated a very large budget increase. The army, it was explained, had to rearm itself after it had used up all its weapons shooting blindly into Lebanon's villages and its capital city, Beirut. But the poor performance of the Israeli Defence Forces' (IDF) during the war also severely damaged its reputation as the "defender of the Jewish nation" and, more importantly, its reputation as being a valid agent of US imperialism in the Middle East.

In order to fix this problem and maintain the high budget spending, a new war is required. The IDF desperately needs to prove it is still vital. It therefore needs a new war, in which it would win. The fact that Syria has no plans to attack Israel is absolutely obvious. About a year after the 2006 war, the army tried to push the Syrian government into an aggressive response towards Israel, by attacking what the army called a "nuclear facility" (providing no evidence that the bombed building was being used by Syria for nuclear purposes). This infiltrating into Syrian territory was aimed at triggering a violent response from Syria, at least, that is what the intelligence bureau was "predicting".

The problem for the Israeli military chiefs was that the Syrians did nothing. They preferred to suffer humiliation rather than having their entire country destroyed by the IDF. If the Syrians did not respond to such a provocation, they certainly have no intention of responding now, now that the IDF has fully regained its strength.

In spite of all this, the Israeli army will keep harassing Syria until it is forced to respond. This is the real purpose of the large-scale manoeuvres the army is carrying out these days, which the Syrians view with great concern. The aim of the manoeuvres is to psychologically prepare Israelis for an upcoming war while at the same time demonstrating the army's massive role in Israeli society.

In a desperate attempt to drag Syria and Lebanon into war, Israel allegedly had Hezbollah's chief-of-staff Imad Mugniyah assassinated. Israel expected a violent retaliation from Hezbollah to avenge the death of this admired leading figure. It waited patiently for Hezbollah to react, constantly beating the drum that such retaliation was imminent, but so far no reaction has been forthcoming.

In the meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has added his voice by announcing that Israel will hold Syria accountable for any terrorist response from Hezbollah to the assassination. This announcement prepares the way for Israel to start a war against Syria if the "loose-cannon" Hezbollah does not restrain itself. So far neither Hezbollah nor Syria seem willing to play Israel's game. But for how long can they keep quiet faced with mounting provocation on the part of the Israeli authorities?

Needless to say that the Israeli army's eagerness to start a new war has no regard for the thousands of lives that would surely be lost on both sides. All they are concerned about is holding on to their economic benefits and their hegemony over Israeli society and decision-making.

In a normal country, such corrupt behaviour on the part of the ruling elite would bring the workers out on to the street in a massive demonstration of their collective power. The army bureaucracy is obviously using Israeli soldiers and citizens as cannon fodder in order to keep enjoying their socio-economic privileges. But in Israel the streets are silent. For most Jewish Israelis, the army is the holiest of holies - their sole defender against the dragons and monsters beyond the dark mountains, that is, the Arab countries and Palestinian masses surrounding Israel or, as Israeli minister of defence Ehud Barak keeps referring to them, "the other side". Cutting the army's budget is considered almost as treachery.

That is why when recession hits, just as the Israeli working class was the last one to enjoy Israel's period of growth, so will it be the first one to suffer from the burden of recession. Only recently the Israeli government announced it intends to cancel 75% of the debts of the settlements beyond the green line, while approximately 1000 Israelis are driven out of their homes annually because of unpaid debts. This move was made by the same government that talks about "tightening the belt" due to the upcoming recession.

Thus the party continues for Israel's exploiting elites. They aren't going to let a little recession ruin their fun, not so long as the Israeli working class is held back by the spectre of the "terrible Arabs who want to destroy Israel". Thus, we see how the Israeli ruling elite exploits the fear of the Israeli workers to cow them into taking upon themselves the burden of recession on their backs.

What will eventually change all this is the rising class struggle in the Arab countries, where the Arab workers will turn against their own masters. That is why developments in Egypt are so important for future developments in Israel.


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