Israel’s Nuclear Budget

Avner Cohen
June 9, 2014

View the full article in Israel’s daily Ha’aretz:
Paying too much for insurance

israels nuclear budget arrow anti-ballistic missile launch

Arrow anti-ballistic missile launch, WikiMedia Commons

In Israel, nuclear weapons do not officially exist. They are no longer denied as they once were, but they are not openly acknowledged, either. Likewise, Israel’s nuclear weapon budget, which presumably includes both nuclear and delivery means infrastructure, does not exist anywhere in the public domain. However, what does exist is a veiled euphemism, called “special means,” through which bureaucrats sometimes talk about large unnamed defense projects. Similar euphemisms are also invoked when the Israeli bureaucracy deals with the civilian intelligence budgets for both Mossad and Shin Bet.

Given this inherent obscurity, it has been difficult for analysts to even guess what Israel spends on nuclear weapons or what percentage of the overall defense budget is nuclear-related. This veil was lifted a little in early June, when Israel’s Director General of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel, disclosed to journalists that 4.5 billion IS (Israeli shekels, equivalent to $1.3 billion) of this year’s overall defense budget is allocated for “special means.” The disclosure was made against the backdrop of bureaucratic turf battles over the budget.

This tiny window into the Israeli kingdom of secrecy allows analysts to raise some questions for the first time and to reflect over issues rarely asked in Israel: How much does Israel spend on nuclear weapons? Does it spend too much or too little on this “national insurance policy”? Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s priorities fit Israel’s old tradition of nuclear restraint? Should we worry about those issues?

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