Civil-Military Relations in Israel

By Perlmutter, Amos | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Civil-Military Relations in Israel


Perlmutter, Amos, The Middle East Journal


Yehuda Ben-Meir's book is a significant contribution to the literature on the relationship between the civilian and the military in Israeli politics and society. Ben-Meir was a member of the National Religious Party in the Knesset (1971-84) and Deputy Foreign Minister (1981-84), and has been involved directly with all significant issues of civil-military relations in Israel. This is why his book is so important. Ben-Meir brings to the discussion his vast experience as a legislator. He has demonstrated the institutional problems that stem from the national security decision-making process in Israel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have played a disproportional role in shaping Israel's strategy. The role of the IDF in the formation of Israel's military and national security continues to be an issue of debate.

Ben-Meir goes into detail, both analytical and specific, concerning unification, centralization, and integration, all key issues in civil and military involvement in Israel. In view of the professionalization of the IDF, its role in the decisions to go to war, and now in the peace negotiations, the Israeli military is certainly more important than it is in other democratic political systems. The IDF's role in the ongoing Palestinian negotiations and the recent Jordanian negotiations clearly demonstrates the significance of the military in the area of national security, borders, territory, and troop deployment. The IDF is undergoing serious reforms that would reduce its personnel and end the total recruitment and mobilization that was its tradition in the past. It is my estimate that close to 25 percent of the eligible candidates for recruitment may not be needed in a leaner, but much more sophisticated and up-to-date, military organization ready for the 21 st century. Former Chief of Staff Ehud Barak set the goals when he took over the command four years ago. All nationbuilding, civilian-oriented security arrangements are no longer burdening the army as they did under David Ben-Gurion in Israel's first two decades. Nevertheless, the IDF remains the people's army and a most critical force in securing the peace arrangements and treaties that will be forthcoming between Israel and the Palestinians, and eventually between Israel and Syria. …

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