Tuesday, March 08, 2011

War plans and peace plans

From The Wall Street Journal, MARCH 8, 2011, by RICHARD BOUDREAUX And BILL SPINDLE:

JERUSALEM—Israel may need to boost military spending and could seek as much as an additional $20 billion in U.S. security assistance over the coming years to help it manage potential threats stemming from popular upheavals in the Arab world, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday.

Still, Mr. Barak said Israel shouldn't fear changes in the region or the risk of offering bold concessions in a bid to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

"It's a historic earthquake...a movement in the right direction, quite inspired," Mr. Barak said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, referring to revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the Gulf. "It's a movement of the Arab societies toward modernity."

In the short term, however, Israel worries that Iran and Syria, its chief adversaries in the region, "might be the last to feel the heat" of unrest, he said, and that public pressure could push new leaders in Egypt to question that country's 1979 peace treaty with the Jewish state.

"The issue of qualitative military aid for Israel becomes more essential for us, and I believe also more essential for you," Mr. Barak said. "It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation or so....A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in such a turbulent region."

Defense analysts say Israel spends about 9% of its gross national product on defense, or roughly $17 billion per year. U.S. military assistance accounts for $3 billion of that. Mr. Barak said Israel faces no imminent threat but would have to increase defense spending over the long-term.

Mr. Barak raised Israel's concerns with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Washington last month and is due to meet him again in Israel in late March. With the Obama administration pressing Israel and the Palestinians to resume long-deadlocked peace talks, Mr. Barak said Israel could not seek pledges of additional military aid without making a "daring" peace offer.

Israeli officials are debating elements of a peace initiative, he said, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce one soon.

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