Haaretz reports Israel’s two main intelligence agencies have nearly doubled their budgets in the past twelve years. Both the Mossad and Shabak had budgets of $1.3-billion in 2005. The upcoming budget for 2018 is slated to rise to $2.2-billion. It’s no accident that much of the dramatic rise in budgetary expenditures happened during Bibi Netanyahu’s prime ministership (2009-present). Bibi himself served in the élite Sayeret Matkal commando unit whose missions often involved intelligence components. It’s widely rumored that after he left the IDF he served as a Mossad agent (and perhaps served either the FBI or CIA as well) in the early 1980s before he entered politics.
There will be a 10% budget increase from the year to 2017 to 2018 alone. Though the government budget doesn’t distinguish between the budgets of the two agencies, the Shabak’s is bigger, as is its overall workforce. Retiree pensions also additionally amount to $250-million per year.
Compare these figures with the U.S. national intelligence program (excluding military intelligence) budgeted at $53-billion for 2016. The population of this country is about 50 times bigger than that of Israel. If our intelligence spending tracked that of Israel, our comparable budget would be $100-billion. This allows one to see what an outsized, even distorted budgetary item this is in the context of Israel’s government spending. It further reinforces my long-time contention that Israel is a national security state. A country with an army, cyber-warriors, spooks, and secret police, and for which its civilian population is sometimes little more than an afterthought.
The Haaretz figures do not include the budget for other intelligence units of the IDF like AMAN, which is quite substantial.
The majority of the increase in spending is targeted toward launching cyber-security capabilities for Mossad (though I’ve written about new cyber-warfare units launched by both agencies). In hiring to fill these new positions, government intelligence agencies are competing with the generous pay packages candidates earn from high-tech employers.
As with many government agencies which become the hot, new thing (cf. NSA and Department of Homeland Security after 9/11)–money is thrown at a problem, and not always in the most careful fashion. Along with this, as Haaretz notes, there is a great deal of overlap between the two agencies. They are each taking on some tasks the other is already handling, making for redundancy and wastage. Because each functions largely in the shadows no one is reviewing the larger picture to ensure the funds are well-spent and not duplicative.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.