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GI holds a conference on "The Security Establishment and the Political Process

14/09/2008: GI holds a conference on "The Security Establishment and the Political Process"
Date: 14.09.08

Haaretz report on Dror's remarks

On Sunday, September 14th, Geneva Initiative held a conference entitled "The Security Establishment and the Political Process," at Cinema City outside Tel Aviv.

Some 280 people attended the conference, which included a short film screening and a panel of experts who discussed the relationship between the government and the military on political matters and the security establishment's high influence on the political decision-making process. Comprising the panel were Brig. Gen. (ret.) MK Amira Dotan, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ilan Paz, and Dr. Ephraim Sneh. Geneva Initiative Director General Gadi Baltiansky, the former Media Advisor to Prime Minister Barak, moderated the event.

The film, "A Million Bullets in October," opened the conference. The documentary by Moysh Goldberg examines the relationship between the military and the government before and during the first weeks of the second Intifada and finds that many of the army's actions stood in contradiction to official government policy and often impacted political decisions.

Baltiansky opened the discussion portion of the conference and explained that the event's goal is not to decry the army's power, seeing as no one has any interest in an army that is not strong. The question, he said, is what the correlation is between the political system's power and the security establishment's power and how mush weight is given to military bodies in relation to the weight given to other bodies in the political decision-making process. He explained that the Geneva Initiative has presented a model for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but continues to work to advance a solution every day. Activities addressing the obstacles are part of this work, and the security establishment's influence on political decisions constitutes one such obstacle.

The first speaker was Brig. Gen. (ret.) MK Amira Dotan of Kadima, who proposed the bill to establish the National Security Staff, passed unanimously by the Knesset in July 2008. Dotan opened her remarks by presenting an explanation for the great weight given to the military's positions in the national decision-making process. The army is a hierarchical body, and all its positions are presented clearly, logically and decisively in a single voice, and are all very clear cut, presenting a black-and-white reality. But everything the army thinks and does is geared towards the army's goals. The professional bodies, on the other hand, present their positions in diplomatic terms (or as the army would call them, "wishy-washy"), presenting a complex reality, with more grays. With such an equation, the army always wins. Additionally, people in the political echelon who wish to be elected must make popular decisions, another factor that contributes to the preference for military-minded decisions.

Dotan proposed a change in the public discourse, where military terms such as "control" are still emphasized even though they may not be relevant to a period of political dialogue. In Israeli political culture, anyone who strays from the popular view is labeled as "different" and often disregarded—another area that demands change. Dotan also criticized the Knesset for neglecting its role as supervisor and acting only as legislator and explained that the National Security Staff law was designed to fix this by facilitating the synchronization of information. The staff is assembled from people from all bodies dealing with security, and its head is directly responsible to and can withhold no information from the prime minister.

The next speaker, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, was a member of the Winograd Commission of Inquiry into the Second Lebanon War and an advisor to several prime ministers. In presenting him, Baltiansky read aloud sections from the Winograd Commission's report describing the problematic relationship between the political and security establishments and the ways these adversely affected both the decision whether to go to war and the war's management. Dror opened his remarks with a statement that the military is not to blame for its influence on the political process, as it has only been filling vacuums left by the governments. The political echelon carries the blame because of its weaknesses. In any other country, Dror said, the army Chief of Staff would have been promptly dismissed for going on record and contradicting the government or failing to carry out government orders. He explained that because Israel lacks mechanisms to balance between the weight given to the views of different bodies, the military remains strong.

Dror added that Israel society is a "clocked society," in which the majority that favors compromise is not as adamant as the minority that opposes compromise, allowing the minority to triumph. Therefore, Israel has failed to make progress on all major political and security issues since 1967. The parliamentary system in Israel prevents leaders from gaining enough power to pass contentious decisions, he said, explaining that he thus believed Israel must instead take on a presidential system with balances. Additionally, he said Israel must adopt a trans-Middle Eastern view, as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alone would not be enough to bring about the desired calm.

Dror also referenced the Second Lebanon War and said Israel had no "strategic mind" during the war. He concluded by stating that the establishment of the National Security Staff brought the implementation figures for the recommendations of the Winograd panel to 40-50%. Dror explained that the reason the army wasn't ready for the war was not insufficient preparation, but rather a failure to adopt a relevant strategic doctrine for "intense asymmetrical combat," as he termed the army's struggle with Hezbollah and Hamas. He added that implementing the recommendations on strategic doctrines would take five-six years.

Dr. Ephraim Sneh, the Chairman of "Israel Hazaka" and a former Deputy Defense Minister, was the third speaker at the conference. He said that contrary to the reality presented in the film of the army running the state, the army can be very obedient when presented with a strong and decisive leadership. The political echelon must have a clear policy, authority, and the ability to oversee implementation to successfully utilize the army and mobilize it behind its positions. Sneh claimed the former prime ministers Rabin and Sharon possessed these qualifications and were thus able to get the army to cooperate with them, even if it was not keen on doing so. Sneh added that the army's considerations are focused solely on the prevention of attacks, and it is the political echelon's responsibility to force the army to abide by other considerations as well, such as maintaining the Palestinian fabric of life. When the military senses weakness above its ranks, however, it acts as it sees fit to accomplish its tasks, guided strictly by security considerations. Sneh stressed that there is no substitute for a national leadership that's able to delve into the details and ensure implementation on the ground, but said that today's leaders possess either authority or policy, but not both.

Sneh warned that the inability to undertake major political steps puts Israel at risk, and asked, "Who'll make the film about the events of October 2008?"—as he believes the next round of violence is nearing and the government must act politically to prevent it. He said Israel's opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians was slipping away. He stated that like in the film, no one in Israel breaks the code of indifference to what might happen should no agreement be reached, but praised Geneva Initiative for her efforts to break the code.

The final speaker was Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ilan Paz, former head of the Civil Administration, who said the film "A Million Bullets in October" accurately portrayed the army's conduct. He presented four relevant examples of ways in which the army's conduct in recent years has gone against government policy or changed it:

  1. The army's involvement in the establishment of and its failures to dismantle unauthorized outposts, as described in the Sasson Report.
  2. The dominance of the inaccurate security notion that the second Intifada was deliberately planned by Arafat—later replaced by the "no partner" notion.
  3. The reality over the past eight years in which the IDF's actions also targeted organizations that had fought against the uprising in the first two years of the second Intifada.
  4. After ceasefires are reached, the army acts under the assumption that its role is to bring the ceasefire to an end by "fault of the other side."

Paz added that while these things contradict government decisions, the government often prefers that the army have a wider scope of freedom and is well-aware of what is being implemented and what isn't. When the government takes no action to ensure its policy is being implemented, there's most likely a correlation between the army's interests and the government's. According to Paz, this can only be changed by replacing the short-sightedness of the leadership with long-term policies. For this to happen, the decision-makers must accept full responsibility, alternative professional bodies must be strengthened, critical media and public discourse must be encouraged, and the High Court of Justice must take on a more central role.