Israel is continuing to bombard the besieged Gaza Strip in the wake of a deadly attack on October 7 by the Palestinian group Hamas.
The United States has firmly backed Israel in its war against Hamas and sent its closest ally in the Middle East guided-missile carriers and F-35 fighters as well as other military equipment.
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Maintaining Israel’s regional military hegemony is a core element of the United States’ Middle East policy. This has been achieved by US funding and an increasing Israeli military arsenal.
Here is what you need to know about Israel’s military and how it is funded.
Israel’s military at a glance
Israel operates a vast military apparatus. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) Military Balance 2023, Israel has 169,500 active military personnel in the army, navy and paramilitary. A further 465,000 constitute its reserve forces, while 8,000 form part of its paramilitary.
Some 300,000 Israeli soldiers are now stationed near the Gaza Strip, a military spokesman said on Wednesday amid fears of a possible ground operation.
Military service is mandatory for citizens over the age of 18 – once enlisted, men are expected to serve for 32 months and women for 24 months.
Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East with advanced surveillance and weapons. Included in its extensive military arsenal are:
- 169,500 active military personnel
- 465,000 reserve forces
- 2,200+ tanks
- 530 artillery (SP, Towed, MRL, MOR)
- 339 combat capable aircraft including 309 fighter ground attack jets
- 196 F-16 jets
- 83 F-15 jets
- 30 F-35 jets
- 142 helicopters
- 43 Apache attack helicopters
- 5 submarines
- 49 patrol and coastal combatants
Israel’s Iron Dome system is a mobile air defence system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets using radar technology. It was developed in 2006, following the war with Hezbollah, where thousands of rockets were launched into Israel.
Coming into operation in 2011, the Iron Dome was created with the help of the US which is responsible for supplying parts for the system including setting aside more than $1.5bn in missile defence for Israel in 2022.
According to the IISS, Israel’s Iron Dome system intercepted more than 90 percent of rockets fired from Hamas and other Palestinian groups in 2021.
Israel is also believed to hold nuclear capabilities, according to the IISS, which states that the country possesses Jericho missiles and aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
How much does Israel spend on its military?
In 2022, Israel spent $23.4bn on its military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a research institute focused on conflict and armaments.
This amounts to $2,535 per capita over the 2018-2022 period, making it the world’s second-largest spender on military per capita after Qatar.
In 2022, Israel dedicated 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to the military, the 10th highest percentage in the world.
Which countries buy the most Israeli weapons?
Historically, Israel’s weapons imports have far outweighed its exports. However, during the last decade, exports have begun to consistently eclipse imports, SIPRI data shows.
Between 2018 and 2022, at least 35 countries imported weapons from Israel totalling $3.2bn.
Of that, about a third ($1.2bn), of Israel’s military exports were to India. Relations between Israel and India have blossomed since Indian Prime Minister Narendra came to power in 2014.
The second-largest buyer of Israeli weapons was Azerbaijan ($295m), followed by the Philippines ($275m), the US ($217m) and Vietnam ($180m).
In the period between 2018-2022, Israel imported weapons totalling $2.7bn from only two countries, the US and Germany.
More than three-quarters of Israel’s military imports amounting to $2.1bn came from the US while the remaining $546m came from Germany.
The US and Israeli militaries cooperate closely with joint exercises, technology development programmes and defence projects, with the latter being the largest recipient of US military aid.
How much military aid has Israel received from the US?
Israel is the most significant recipient of US foreign aid, having received some $263bn between 1946 and 2023.
This is almost double (1.7 times more) than the second-highest recipient of US foreign aid, Egypt, which received $151.9bn in the past 77 years.
Israel has long been seen by US legislators as an ally to help protect US strategic interests in the Middle East.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, factors for the continuing military support to Israel include shared strategic interests, “domestic US support for Israel” and “a mutual commitment to democratic values”.
US military funding to Israel topped $3.8bn in 2023, as part of a record $38bn deal over 10 years signed under former US President Barack Obama in 2016.
Between 1946 and 2023, the US has supported Israel with a total of $124bn in the form of military and defence aid.
Of the $3.8bn military aid provided to Israel this year, half a billion has been for Israel’s missile defences. Washington has stated that it will backfill Israeli munitions used against Hamas in the latest war.
Hours after the deadly Hamas attack inside Israel, it requested Iron Dome interceptors from the US, with President Joe Biden stating that Washington “will be rapidly providing the Israel Defence Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions”, which are scheduled to arrive within days.
The Biden administration is expected to set aside more money for Tel Aviv through a funding request to Congress. However, with the absence of a House speaker there could be a delay in congressional authorisation for such aid.
The US imposes conditions on how aid, particularly military aid, can be used. The Leahy Law prohibits the export of US defence articles to military units complicit in human rights abuses.
However, no Israeli unit has been penalised under this law.
Military aid to Israel greatly increased after the 1967 war when Israel defeated neighbouring Arab armies and began occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.