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Arab Spring inflating Israel’s defense costs, Bibi tells U.S. Jewish leaders

JTA

February 21, 2012 | 10:48 am

Al-Ahly soccer fans take part in a protest against the general prosecutor in Cairo on Feb. 15. Photo by REUTER/Mohammed Salem

Al-Ahly soccer fans take part in a protest against the general prosecutor in Cairo on Feb. 15. Photo by REUTER/Mohammed Salem

The Islamization of the Arab Spring movement has placed “enormous pressure” on Israeli defenses and progress in the peace process, Benjamin Netanyahu told American Jewish leaders.

The Israeli prime minister, speaking Sunday night to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ annual meeting in Jerusalem, said his country’s economy must continue to grow to support financing of the increased defense needs.

Netanyahu said that when the revolutions across the Arab landscape began, he heard criticism that he was not optimistic enough.

“I think optimism is being realistic and addressing things as they are, and we looked at it with sober eyes and we said it might go to the Google generation, but it might not. It might go to the Islamist direction. And by and large it has,” he said.

Netanyahu said that with most of the Arab countries that had rebellions now being run by Islamists, and ultimately Iran, achieving progress with the Palestinians is difficult because they “pile precondition on precondition” in order to appease their radical patrons.

He said the threat of Iran and the lack of progress on the Palestinian front means “that we will have to spend a lot more to defend ourselves. We have.”

The increased cost of defending the Jewish state, and leaving enough money for social, educational and health needs, cannot depend on foreign assistance and must come from the country’s economy.

Since a low in 2002-03, Israel’s economy has been growing at about 5 percent each year due to a pro-business environment and the development of Asian and other markets along with the development of the infrastructure that serves it, he said.

Netanyahu noted Israel’s discovery of gas reserves in its territorial waters off the Mediterranean coast.

He pointed to some of the challenges facing Israel: rockets and missiles fired at its borders, cyber attacks, and the infiltration of its border by illegal migrants.

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