Civil-Military Relations in Israel

By Sheffer, Gabriel | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Civil-Military Relations in Israel


Sheffer, Gabriel, The Middle East Journal


Civil-Military Relations in Israel

Defense and Diplomacy in Israel's National security Experience: Tactics, Partnership and Motives, by David Rodman. Brighton, UK and Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2005. ix + 122 pages. Notes to p. 144. Bibl. to p. 151. Index to p. 160. $52.50.

The Israeli Military and the Origins of the 1967 War: Government, Armed Forces and Defense Policy 1963-1967, by Ami Gluska. London, UK and New York: Routledge, 2007. xvii + 261 pages, Appendix top. 268. Bio. notes to p. 271. Notes to p. 312. Bibl. to p. 316. Index to p. 324. $125.

1967: Israel, The War, and the Year that Transformed The Middle East, by Tom Segev. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007. 585 pages. Notes to p. 642. Acknowledgments to p. 645. Index to p. 673. $35.

Generals in the Cabinet Room: How the Military Shapes Israeli Policy, by Yoram Peri. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006. xiii + 264 pages. Appends, to p. 272. Notes to p. 296. Works cited to p. 305. Index to p. 327. $50.

The emotional, ideological, and practical issues concerning the various roles of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and other powerful security organizations, such as Mossad and Shabak, their tense relations with the Israeli social and political systems, and their contributions to the formulation of policies and their implementation in various spheres, have always been on the agendas of Israeli politicians, generals, and journalists. To a lesser degree, until recently, these relations have been on the Israeli general public agenda. However, especially after the devastating 2006 "second war in Lebanon," more and more Israelis have become interested in and have shown growing concern about these matters. For similar reasons, Israeli civil-military relations have always been a popular topic for research and multiple publications mainly by Israeli academic analysts and writers, but also by foreign observers and analysts.

There are several interrelated reasons for the longstanding interest in civil-military relations in Israel. First, the fact that during the pre-state period, and especially after independence in 1948, Israel has always been involved in full-scale wars as well as in lowintensity conflict and warfare in which the IDF was involved. second, because Israel has always suffered from real and imagined existential threats and, therefore, the IDF and the other security services were regarded as essential for the protection, indeed for the very survival, of Israel these organizations have enjoyed a special position. Third, what degree of autonomy the IDF and the other security organizations had in making strategic and tactical policies and decisions prior to, during, and between wars and low-intensity conflicts remains an open question. Fourth is the widespread belief that Israeli society has been a "mobilized" entity. Fifth is the blurred and confusing relationship between the social and political systems, on the one hand, and the IDF and the other security services, on the other hand. Apparently, all these factors also motivated the four authors to study and publish the books reviewed here.

In order to put the discussion of these four books in proper analytical and theoretical perspectives, let me begin by presenting a categorization of the Israeli academic literature in this field of study.1 Accordingly, one can distinguish between three established approaches to the study of Israeli civil-military relations: the "traditional," the "critical," and the "new critical."

The "traditional" approach, which dates back to the late 1950s and was influenced by the then-popular functional-structural approach, focuses on the formal structural and functional features of the purportedly very clearly distinctive civilian and military subsystems of the Israeli state. Their overall thesis has been that traditionally the civilian political system was dominant, thus ensuring the democratic nature of the Israeli state. …

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