The financial burden of the Israel-Hamas war is beginning to take its toll, sparking a political debate in Israel that will be tough for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, to navigate, Bloomberg informs.
The conflict is costing the Israeli economy around $260 million every single day, according to the finance ministry’s estimates. That’s more than Israel expected when war broke out in early October. The government is having to spend more on everything from weaponry to wages for the hundreds of thousands of reservists it called up as the military operation in Gaza continues. At the same time, fiscal revenues are dropping because tourism and household consumption, among others, are slumping.
Built into Israel’s expenditure program are so-called “coalition funds,” or discretionary spending earmarked to the five parties comprising Netanyahu’s government, the most religious in Israel’s history. A record 14 billion shekels ($3.6 billion) in transfers approved last May will partly go toward religious schools — some exempt from teaching subjects like English and math. Other favored projects include the development of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Smotrich, himself a lifelong settler, is under pressure to cut back such spending. He’s said he’ll strip out anything that’s not “essential to support the fighting.” But his efforts so far have been criticized by opposition politicians and former central bank governors as not going far enough to appease markets — which Israel will need to do as it increases borrowing to pay for the war — and keep the country’s finances on a stable footing.