Israeli officials say the 10-week-long invasion of Lebanon has been far less expensive than either the 1967 or 1973 Arab-Israeli wars and that, as a result, they do not expect to ask for additional economic or military aid from the United States.
According to estimates by officials of the Bank of Israel, the government's central bank, the war has cost Israel $1 billion in outright expenditures so far, much of it to pay for bombs and ammunition used to pound Palestine Liberation Organization forces. They estimate that the war also has cost Israel up to $500 million in lost production time because of the mobilization of military reserve units.
Chafing under criticism of their methods and goals in Lebanon, Israeli officials say this time Israel can pay its own way.
"If your readers expect to read about the terrible economic burden Israel has to bear because of this war, they are in for a disappointment," Yikir Plessner, deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, said in an interview. "It has been a burden, but not anywhere near prohibitive."
There are several reasons why this war, the longest that Israel has fought since the 1948-49 war of independence, has imposed a lighter economic burden than the others, according to officials here.
For one thing, they note, this conflict has been fought on only one front, unlike the 1967 and 1973 wars. Moreover, while Israeli forces clashed in the early days of the war with the Syrian Army and Air Force, the bulk of the fighting has been against PLO guerrillas.
The Israelis have stressed the large amount of sophisticated weapons the PLO possessed, but in fact the PLO was never a match for the Israeli Defense Forces. The PLO had neither an air force nor a navy, nor were its ground forces at all comparable to the highly mechanized units of the Israeli Army.
As a result, Israel's losses of modern and extremely expensive instruments of war -- the kind of losses that can force a country to turn to its allies for help--have been negligible.
In 10 weeks of combat missions, most of them not seriously contested once the Syrians were driven from the field, the Israeli Air Force has lost one A5 Skyhawk and one F4 Phantom jet. These aging, American-built aircraft are being phased out of the Israeli arsenal and being replaced by modern F15 and F16 jets, which have remained unscathed so far in the fighting in Lebanon.
Israel also has lost two helicopters in the fighting. Military officials have not disclosed how much other equipment was lost in the fierce tank battles with the Syrians in eastern Lebanon early in the war, but they are thought not to be unduly large.
In contrast, Israel's major equipment losses in the 1973 war totaled 105 aircraft and 800 tanks, the bulk of them destroyed in fighting against Egypt, which is now at peace with Israel. The value of lost equipment alone in 1973 equaled Israel's gross national product that year, according to Plessner.
The cost of the war in Lebanon is now about 7 percent of the Israeli gross national product, he added.
These relatively light losses have allowed Israeli officials to look at the question of outside aid in political and ideological terms rather than as a desperate economic necessity -- as was the case in 1973. There was an edge of prickliness in Plessner's voice as he explained why he, and, he believes, a large number of other government officials, oppose asking the United States for more aid as a result of the invasion of Lebanon.
"I think Israel would be stupid to request additional aid because of the war," he said. "Obviously this war is not particularly popular with the rest of the world. Since despite that fact Israel decided to execute the war the way we have, it is better to do it on our own strength.
"It would be humiliating if Israel had to request additional aid because of the war," he added.
In the current fiscal year, the United States has supplied Israel with $1.4 billion in military grants and credits, and $785 million in economic aid that goes into Israel's general treasury funds. For the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, President Reagan has requested the same amount of economic aid and an increase in the military support to $1.7 billion.
The government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin already has acted to finance the war debt, and ordinary Israelis are feeling the burden. But the indications, including public opinion polls, are that they are doing so willingly.
The war came home to Israeli citizens this summer in the form of higher taxes and sharp increases in the price of basic commodities that are subsidized by the government. The cost to consumers of bread, milk, margarine, eggs, poultry and public transportation shot up as the government reduced its subsidy on these items to cut expenditures.
The price increases varied, but, officials said, the aim of the government is to reduce all subsidies to about 20 percent of cost. Some of the commodities had been subsidized by more than 50 percent.
Israelis are able to live with such price increases, which generally are imposed by the government overnight while they are asleep, because virtually all wages in the country are indexed to the rising cost of living.
In addition to slashing subsidies, the Begin government is planning to cut other expenditures by about $140 million. Last month it also increased the value added tax, a form of national sales tax, from 12 to 15 percent, a step that is expected to raise about $350 million in the current fiscal year, and imposed a series of relatively minor temporary taxes specifically to pay for the war.
But the most important element in the government's plan to finance the war is a "compulsory war loan."
Under the measure, estimated to produce $650 million, Israelis will have 4 percent of their gross income taken from them during the next nine months as an interest-free "loan" to the government. The money is to be repaid over a 12-year period, but with inflation in Israel currently running at an annual rate of 117 percent, its value at the end of the repayment period could be negligible.
Israeli officials say they are confident that these measures will more than cover the costs of the war in Lebanon, which can be financed over a number of years. This, of course, assumes that the fighting around Beirut will end soon, and that Israel will not encounter major new war costs in the months ahead.
The Israelis are committed to remaining in Lebanon until all other foreign forces--the PLO and the Syrian Army in eastern Lebanon--also leave the country. Israeli military officials have estimated that they will have to spend more than $1 billion equipping their soldiers for an icy winter in Lebanon's mountainous terrain.
There will also be other less direct costs as a result of the fighting in Lebanon. Tourism, an important element in the Israeli economy, is down sharply this summer as a direct result of the conflict. The consumer price rises and wage increases that automatically will follow can only be expected to add to Israel's inflation.
But none of this, Plessner said, is nearly as important as how developments in the world economy generally will affect Israel's large export and import transactions.
"We are extremely dependent on what happens in the rest of the world," he said.