By Brent E. Sasley November 21 at 3:52 PM
In the beginning of November, 106 former Israeli security officials published a letter as an advertisement in an Israeli newspaper calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take advantage of Israels success in the summers Gaza warand make a serious effort at peace on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative. The letter did not refer to a peace process with the Palestinians; in fact, it specifically noted these negotiations have consistently failed. Only a political-regional approach and an arrangement with the moderate Arab states has a chance of bringing about an agreement with the Palestinians, stability, security and economic prosperity, the officials argued.
The letter is important and must be understood in the context of Israels distinctive framework of civil-military relations, so different from other Western democracies. In most countries it is not considered normal for serving or former intelligence, defense and law enforcement officers to publicly criticize the head of government and provide unsolicited advice on matters of war and peace; and when they do, there are severe consequences for them. For instance, a clash between President Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal over policy in Afghanistan resulted in the latters dismissal.
But in Israel such critiques are considered normal. The consequence is that policymaking civilian decision-making is not just the purview of the government, but of a larger community of individuals and groups associated with military and security agencies. The letters importance, then, lies not in the public nature of its critique, but in its substance.
Certainly the letter highlights disagreements between Netanyahu and the security establishment that stretch back to his previous term, particularly over Iran. But the issue is much bigger than Netanyahu or Iran, and it gets to the critical issue of the balance of power between civilians and military or security officials in a democracy. In Israels case, the specific historical development of the country and the role of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and security agencies in the creation and development of the state have tipped the balance more toward the latter. Yet definitions of democracy, at least as promoted in the west, include far more civilian oversight than seems to exist in the Israeli case.
In addition to the security needs of Israel after its establishment in 1948, the military was used as an agent of nation-building (which excluded the haredim ultra-Orthodox and the Arab minority). The IDF founded agricultural settlements around the country, in isolated places and near the borders, to serve as first lines of defense against Israels enemies. The process of defending the country was tied to the Zionist enterprise settling and working the land and redeeming the Jewish people through manual labor. The military absorbed tens of thousands of new immigrants and inculcated them with emerging Israeli values, norms and practices including teaching them the new national language, Hebrew.
More broadly the IDF was held up as the embodiment of collectivism and self-sacrifice for the good of the nation, as well as the repository of centuries of Jewish collective memories. The early Zionist effort to create a new Jew, distinct from the old Jews of Europe who suffered persecution and murder, made the military a paragon of Jewish power, self-defense and strength in the face of the weakness that marked Jews everywhere else who let themselves be oppressed and, worst of all, be led like lambs to the slaughter in the Holocaust.
The expansion of state capacity led to the creation or building up of other security and intelligence agencies, and they, too, were incorporated into this process of development. As Israel aged, and the threat environment remained the same, these security agencies came to assume a prominent role in the foreign policy decision-making process. Their expertise was presumed to be almost all that was necessary for the government to decide on foreign and security policy, not just on decisions involving the use of force, but on diplomatic and political issues, as well.
And they came to play a prominent role in domestic policy, including in budget debates. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza further facilitated their place at the decision-making table, as the IDF was used to administer the captured territories and, during the First Intifada from 1987 to 1993, to engage in riot control.
Finally, the ease with which defense officials moved from their security jobs into politics meant that they brought with them their expertise, connections, authority and emphasis on security frameworks for resolving problems. It is no coincidence that most defense ministers have been former high-ranking military officers, or that Israelis indicate they prefer as prime minister someone with experience in defense. Levi Eshkol was prime minister during the 1967 crisis leading to the war that year. He was widely criticized for appearing hesitant and bumbling at a time when many Israelis feared their country would be destroyed; many Israelis called for him to be replaced by one or more IDF commanders, including former chief of staff-turned-politician Moshe Dayan. Similarly, when Labor leader Amir Peretz became defense minister in 2006, he was widely mocked for not having the extensive military experience his three immediate predecessors all high-ranking generals had.
Originally posted here:
Monkey Cage: The politics of Israels security officers