Israel’s foreign exchange reserves play a critical role in the country’s economic and financial stability. As a small, trade-dependent economy, Israel relies heavily on reserves of foreign currency to manage exchange rate risks, ensure import capacity, and instill confidence in financial markets. This in-depth guide explores the key aspects of Israel’s forex reserves.

An Overview of Israel’s Foreign Exchange Reserves

Foreign exchange reserves are assets held by a nation’s central bank in foreign currencies. These reserves provide backing for liabilities and help influence monetary policy. The Bank of Israel manages Israel’s foreign currency reserves. Its reserves include foreign bank deposits, bonds, treasury bills and other holdings denominated in currencies like the U.S. dollar and euro.

Israel’s forex reserves help absorb economic shocks and stabilize markets by ensuring there is adequate backing for the shekel. The reserves also allow Israel to maintain import capacity for essential commodities, guard against currency crises, and influence exchange rates. As of August 2023, Israel holds over $193 billion in gross foreign exchange reserves.

The Composition of Israel’s Foreign Currency Reserves

Israel’s forex reserves comprise assets denominated in different foreign currencies. The vast majority, around 83%, are held in U.S. dollars. This reflects the greenback’s status as the global reserve currency. About 10% of Israel’s reserves are in euros, providing exposure to Europe’s common currency.

The remaining reserves include smaller holdings in other currencies like the British pound, Canadian dollar, Japanese yen and Australian dollar. This diversified composition reduces risk and provides stability. The reserves are invested conservatively in cash, bank deposits, bonds and other liquid assets overseas.

Why Foreign Exchange Reserves Matter for Israel

There are several key reasons why foreign currency reserves hold strategic importance for Israel:

Backing for the Shekel

The reserves provide backing for the Israeli shekel and help instill confidence in the currency’s value. This prevents runs on the shekel in times of uncertainty.

Exchange Rate Stability

Israel’s central bank can use reserves to influence exchange rates and prevent large fluctuations in the shekel’s value versus currencies like the dollar. This provides currency stability.

Import Capacity

The reserves assure there is enough foreign currency to pay for critical imports like oil, grains, machinery and military equipment. This is vital for Israel’s small open economy.

Financial Market Confidence

Large reserves signal financial strength and back liabilities, assuring investors and markets of Israel’s capacity to meet obligations. This averts panics.

Emergency Fund

The reserves provide a buffer during economic crises like wars, oil shocks or global recessions when foreign currency requirements rise.

In essence, Israel’s reserves provide an insurance policy against external shocks and volatility. They are a key macroeconomic stabilizer.

The Adequate Level of Reserves for Israel

There are differing views on what constitutes an adequate level of forex reserves for Israel. Typically, adequacy is measured in months of imports or percent of gross domestic product. The IMF suggests reserves equaling three months of prospective imports provides an adequate buffer for most countries.

By this metric, Israel’s current reserves equal around 24 months of imports, suggesting a very robust reserve position. However, given Israel’s geopolitical risks, small open economy and reliance on imports, a higher reserves threshold may be prudent.

Analysts estimate Israel requires between US$60-75 billion in reserves to comfortably withstand crises. Israel’s present reserves of over $193 billion provide a sizable cushion even by conservative estimates. The level also exceeds 14% of Israel’s GDP.

Overall, Israel holds a very strong level of reserves that provides safety even in periods of global economic stress or conflict. This serves the economy well.

The Growth Trajectory of Israel’s Foreign Exchange Reserves

Israel’s foreign currency reserves have steadily built up over time as the economy expanded and integration with world markets increased. Some key aspects of the growth include:

  • Rapid rise after large-scale immigration from the Soviet Union in the 1990s expanded the economy and boosted exports.
  • Further accumulation in the 2000s as high-tech sectors boomed and the shekel strengthened. The Bank of Israel purchased large dollar inflows to prevent excessive appreciation of the shekel.
  • Reserves topping over $100 billion in 2011 as exports continued rising ahead of imports.
  • Growth to all-time highs above $193 billion by 2022, reflecting continued current account surpluses for Israel.
  • Small declines in 2022 as the Bank of Israel intervened to contains shekel strength against a weakening dollar amid high energy costs.

Israel’s sizable current account surplus has been a key driver in allowing forex reserves to reach very healthy levels. This provides security for the future.

Benefits of High Foreign Exchange Reserves for Israel

Israel derives substantial economic benefits from maintaining ample foreign currency reserves, including:

Crisis Resilience

Large reserves allow Israel to better manage any crisis whether it is a global recession, regional conflict or an oil price spike. Reserves provide the capacity to support the economy throughout external shocks.


High reserves signal Israel has ample external assets to meets its obligations. This boosts Israel’s credit rating and makes borrowing easier and cheaper during difficult periods.

Exchange Rate Flexibility

Sizable reserves grant Israel’s central bank greater scope to implement independent monetary policy and occasionally intervene in foreign exchange markets to smooth excessive currency fluctuations.

Investor Confidence

A large war chest in reserves conveys financial strength, lifting confidence in Israel’s assets. This helps attract foreign investment and capital inflows.

Import Capacity

Big reserves guarantee Israel’s ability to cover its substantial import bill for extended periods, even if export revenues decline temporarily during global downturns.

In summary, ample reserves afford Israel meaningful economic latitude that a reserves-poor nation would lack during turbulent times.

How Israel Uses Its Foreign Exchange Reserves

Israel employs its ample foreign currency reserves judiciously to fulfill important policy objectives:

  • Smoothing excessive shekel volatility during periods of global financial market stress or speculation.
  • Maintaining adequate import cover to satisfy Israel’s domestic consumption and investment needs.
  • Backing financial liabilities and reassuring markets of capacity to service debts.
  • Providing foreign currency liquidity to Israeli banks and companies to ease financial squeezes.
  • Supporting government initiatives through targeted foreign currency purchases and funding.
  • Strategically allocating a portion of reserves to yield higher investment returns that increase national income.
  • As a deterrent against potential speculative currency attacks.
  • Funding initiatives like loan packages to strategic allies.

Prudent and selective use of reserves provides Israel substantial latitude in economic policymaking without compromising the core purpose of reserves as a financial bulwark.

Governance of Israel’s Foreign Exchange Reserves

Israel’s foreign exchange reserves are managed directly by the Bank of Israel, the nation’s central bank. Oversight resides with the central bank’s Foreign Currency Committee and Investments Committee. These panels comprise senior Bank of Israel personnel and respected private sector experts who advise on reserves strategy.

Day-to-day reserves management happens through the Foreign Currency Department and Foreign Exchange Activity Department within the Bank of Israel. These are closely monitored by the Bank’s Risk Management Unit and Research Department.

Strict governance, coupled with prudent investment policies focused on liquidity and security, ensures Israel’s reserves remain a robust asset protected from volatility or misuse. Transparent oversight and risk management provides confidence.

Challenges Facing Israel’s Foreign Currency Reserves

While Israel holds adequate reserves, some issues can pose challenges:

Declining Reserves-to-Debt Ratio

As Israel’s government debt grows, the ratio of reserves to external debt has declined. This ratio has fallen from over 15% in 2010 to under 9% in 2022. A declining ratio reduces the reserves coverage of debt.

Shekel Strength Eroding Reserves

Prolonged strength in the shekel can erode reserves since the Bank of Israel buys foreign currency to moderate shekel appreciation. This tightens reserves.

Global Financial Crises

Financial upheavals that reduce exports and investment returns can deplete reserves if interventions are needed to stabilize the shekel and credit markets.

Geopolitical Conflicts

Wars or sustained security threats that elevate defence imports and spur capital outflows can rapidly drain reserves in absence of offsetting forex inflows.

Prudent reserves management and stable economic policies are necessary to counter these risks in an uncertain global environment.

The Future Outlook for Israel’s Foreign Exchange Reserves

Israel’s sizable reserves and strong external position provide confidence it can maintain healthy reserves barring unforeseen shocks. However, some factors that can influence future reserve trajectories include:

  • Export competitiveness: Reserves could rise if high-tech and other exports remain robust. But weakening global demand or loss of tech competitiveness may reduce inflows.
  • Investment returns: Good performance lifts returns on reserve assets, growing reserves. But if US interest rates elevate without similar shekel rate rises, returns may suffer.
  • Oil prices: Surges in imported oil prices that worsen current account balances will sap reserves. Stable energy costs will limit damage.
  • Currency wars: Aggressive central bank easing worldwide weakening currencies against the shekel could burn reserves if Israel tries resisting appreciation.
  • Regional stability: A peaceful environment minimizes defence imports and reserve loss. But new conflicts could bleed reserves via arms imports and safe haven capital inflows.

Barring adverse shocks, Israel’s reserves seem poised for stability given strong fundamentals. But prudent policymaking can further entrench this position.


In conclusion, Israel’s sizable foreign currency reserves are a valuable asset providing financial stability and policy flexibility. Reserves adequacy, composition, growth trajectory and governance frameworks reveal a carefully constructed and managed reserve position. Challenges exist, but Israel has the economic strength to maintain healthy reserves barring unanticipated shocks. With sound macroeconomic policies, reserves can support Israel’s growth and insulation from global volatility.