National Security Decision-Making in Israel: Processes, Pathologies, and Strengths

Article excerpt

This article presents a first of its kind typology of Israeli national security decision-making processes, focusing on five primary pathologies and a number of strengths. It will demonstrate that these pathologies are the product of an extraordinarily compelling external environment and domestic structural factors: chiefly, the extreme politicization of the decision-making process stemming from the proportional representation electoral system, the consequent need to govern through coalition cabinets, and the absence of effective cabinet-level decision-making support capabilities.

Ever since Israel's establishment in 1948, it has confronted an external environment whose primary characteristic has been perceived as one of nearly unremitting and overwhelming hostility. Repeated wars, perpetual hostilities at lower levels, the failed peace processes with the Palestinians and Syria, and even the "cold" peace with Egypt and Jordan have reinforced this image. As a result, national security has been at the forefront of Israeli political life for six decades.

Israel has responded to these circumstances on two levels: by building up a disproportionate defense capability to forestall the threats to its security and by developing a "hunkering down" national security decision-making style geared to a "garrison democracy."' Indeed, by the 1970s and 80s, Israel's national security establishment (armed forces, intelligence services, defense and foreign ministries, defense industries) had not only earned a reputation for quality, but had even become one of the world's largest in absolute numbers. In the period since, the defense establishment has developed further, both in size and organizational complexity.

The literature on government and politics in Israel is extensive, though skewed in its emphasis. Almost all studies by journalists, practitioners, and even scholars have taken a clearly historical and case-study-oriented approach, with virtually every event, incident, and major development in Israeli history extensively chronicled. A fair amount of attention also has been given to the formal structures and institutions of Israeli governance and politics. Little attention has been devoted, however, to the processes of Israeli national security decision-making and to an attempt to develop an overall typology thereof.2

This article seeks to close the gap and to present a typology of Israeli decisionmaking, focusing on five primary pathologies. It will seek to demonstrate that these pathologies are largely the product of two primary factors and the interplay between them: an extraordinarily compelling external environment and domestic structural factors, chief among them the extreme politicization of the decision-making process (DMP) stemming from the proportional representation (PR) electoral system and consequent need to govern through coalition cabinets.

ENVIRONMENTAL SOURCES OF ISRAELI NATIONAL SECURITY DECISION-MAKING

DECISIONS ARE CRITICAL AND FATEFUL

For nearly 60 years, and in the pre-state days as well, Israeli national security policy has been predicated on a broad national consensus, which holds that Israel faces a realistic threat of genocide, or at a minimum, of politicide. Indeed, the dangers and degree of external threat posed by the hostile security environment over the years are so extreme that they bear little substantive comparison to other countries.3

In recent years, the threat of all-out conventional warfare has receded greatly (despite the 2006 war in Lebanon), and the war in Iraq eliminated the feared Iraqi WMD threat to Israel. Nonetheless, Iran's nuclear program continues to be perceived as an imminent existential threat, and additional threats, severe if not existential, also persist, including Syrian WMD capabilities, Hizbullah's massive rocket arsenal (as amply demonstrated in the recent fighting), and ongoing terrorism. The second Intifada, though not a major military threat in the conventional sense, was perceived by many in Israel as a challenge to the very fabric of its society. …