(JTA) — After the missiles have stopped, after the troops have come home, even after most of the wounded are out of the hospital, Israelis will still be feeling the burden of Operation Protective Edge – this time in their pockets.
With the recent expiration of a temporary cease-fire, the operation may not be over. (Another temporary cease-fire was put in place starting at midnight Monday.) But through last week, including both direct military expenses and indirect hits to the Israeli economy, the total cost of the four-week conflict is estimated at $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion.
The government has maintained radio silence on the war’s military costs and estimates vary, but Israeli media report that they range from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. Lost economic activity amounted to an estimated $1.3 billion, with the tourism sector in particular taking a massive hit.
“Along with soldiers, we won’t spare a shekel in reimbursements to residents of the south and reservists,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at a news conference Thursday. “From our perspective they’re all soldiers, and all deserve special treatment from us.”
Ever the populist, Lapid promised not to raise taxes. But he admitted the money will have to come from somewhere and predicted the 2015 budget deficit would rise.
Here’s a partial look at how all those shekels were spent.
Israel’s pricey weaponry
Iron Dome: The U.S.-funded star of the war, the Iron Dome missile defense system limited Israeli civilian casualties to three while shooting down 90 percent of the rockets headed toward Israeli cities, according to the Israeli military. Of the 3,460 rockets fired at Israel during the war, Iron Dome intercepted 584 of them – at $50,000 a piece. That comes to a total of $29 million, or about $1 million per day. Last week, the Congress approved another $225 million in funding for Iron Dome.
Smart bombs: Israeli war technology isn’t limited to the home front. Israeli planes have bombed Gaza approximately 4,900 times during the war – roughly 150 times a day. Yiftah Shapir, head of the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said most of the bombs Israeli planes dropped were likely equipped with computers and cameras to increase accuracy.
Shapir doesn’t know how many bombs Israel used and the IDF won’t say, but he said most Israeli ordnance was likely one of two missiles: the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, a GPS-guided missile made by Boeing, and the Tammuz missile, an Israeli-made munition that locates its target with a camera and has a 15-mile range.
According to Shapir, not including the bombs, each of the Air Force’s 4,900 sorties cost $15,000, for a total of over $73 million. Add on a $32,000 JDAM or a $140,000 Tammuz and the price skyrockets. Critics of Israel have accused the IDF of using imprecise – and far less expensive – artillery in strikes that have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Gaza.
Calling up the reserves
One of the unifying factors of this war was that almost every Israeli knew a few people in uniform. Israel has called up 82,000 reservists during the conflict – nearly half at the war’s start and 42,000 more as it went on.
It’s hard to determine the exact cost of reserves because each soldier receives a reimbursement for lost salary pegged to his monthly paycheck. But according to the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot, each reservist costs the army $174 a day – including food, shelter, a uniform and weapons. If the figure is accurate, the IDF spent nearly $200 million on reservists, not including the salary reimbursement.
This could sound like yet another bad-taste Oscar night joke, but turns out that the U.S. economy is run by Jews.
Well, at least the federal government’s top advisers.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, as Treasury Secretary. He will joined by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jeffrey Zients, who heads the Office of Management and Budget. All are Members of the Tribe.
With Lew’s confirmation as Treasury Secretary, he is officially no longer the White House chief of staff. But the Jewish community, a former official with the administration assured, will not lose access. His replacement, Dennis McDonough may be Catholic, but he still has a soft spot for Jewish activists. During his tenure as deputy national security adviser, McDonough launched a tradition of monthly conference calls with Jewish leaders for updates on international issues and was known to meet with almost every major Jewish federation delegation that came to Washington.
A week ago, I spent part of the day scrambling in ditches in the south of Israel as rocket alarms sounded when I was on the road. Today, the situation is calm and the children are back at school. But residents are left wondering who will foot the bill.
They aren’t talking about the cost of Operation Pillar of Defense itself, but of the financial cost that they suffered as a result of it. Many families had their homes or property damaged, and while public compensation funds are available, they take a long time and lots of form filling. But even in families where homes and cars are fine, the bank balance often isn’t.
Lots of people missed almost two weeks of work for the military operation and preceding rocket fire, and while some will be getting paid as normal, it depends on their employment arrangements and many won’t. For small businesses, the conflict spells financial woes.
It’s unclear exactly how southerners will be reimbursed for lost income and how long it will take. But the political context is important. Labor, which is the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu list, has just put the issue on the campaigning agenda, releasing a five-point socioeconomic rehabilitation plan for the south. which prioritizes compensation.
The last thing that Netanyahu will want is Labor having poster boys and girls from the south saying they are still suffering economically from the war that he started. The fact there’s an election coming up seems to mean that they stand a better chance than normal of getting things sorted out promptly.
My latest editorial lamented how the debacle over the debt ceiling debate in Washington could be bad for the Jews. First, because we are Americans, and second, because a weakened America will lead to a weakened Israel.
The Israel connection was, in my mind, a geopolitical one — that is, Israel depends on American military aid and diplomatic muscle to remain a power in its rough neighborhood and to fend off challenges to its existence. I hardly thought a direct economic connection would emerge so quickly.
But then I saw the weekend’s news about the Israeli stock market.