The Growing Gap Between Israel’s Government and Security Establishment

Logan Bayroff
on January 29, 2016

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Over the past few years of the Netanyahu government, there have been clear signs of a gap between Israel’s political leadership and its military and intelligence establishment. As terror attacks continue in the West Bank and the situation on the ground remains far from stable, those gaps now appear to be growing.

The security establishment has strongly urged cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, the creation of more economic opportunities for Palestinians and diplomatic progress toward a political solution that can get at many of the root causes of violence. That puts it at odds with the Prime Minister and his cabinet — who tend to deny that the basic problem, the ongoing occupation, even exists.

While the Prime Minister blames terror attacks wholly on Palestinian incitement and routinely denounces President Abbas as being largely to blame, leading security officials contradict him, touting the role of the Palestinian Authority in helping to stop attacks. One told a journalist this week that “security coordination has improved a great deal, and the Palestinians are working indefatigably to thwart terror attacks.”

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has taken the lead in documenting that rift — and this week he reported one of the most glaring examples yet. Lieutenant General Gabi Eisenkot, the IDF’s chief of staff, told an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies conference that the Iran nuclear agreement represents a “strategic turning point” with “many risks but many opportunities.” He also described the existential threat to Israel from the Iranian nuclear program as “declining.”

Goldberg calls this “the most direct public challenge yet posed by Israel’s security services to the repeated claim by Netanyahu that the Iran nuclear agreement threatens Israel’s survival.”

Eisenkot’s remarks are just the latest proof that the Prime Minister’s apocalyptic warnings about the Iran agreement — and the furious efforts of those in Congress who supported his position — don’t by any stretch represent the views of all Israeli leaders. As with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bluster of the Prime Minister simply doesn’t match the analysis of the men and women in the IDF and intelligence services who have devoted their careers to keeping Israelis safe. They are acutely aware of what military force can accomplish — and what it cannot.

The General made clear that when it comes to assessments of Israel’s security needs, some decisionmakers may be more well-reasoned and clear-eyed than others. “[N]aturally the task of the army, and my task, is to view situations from a perspective of both risks and capabilities, and in that manner to make a judgment. And not from an assumption of the worst-case scenario, because I think that is no less dangerous than to project an overly optimistic scenario.”

Those comments serve as a welcome reminder that unrelenting pessimism is not pragmatism — and that recognizing and exploiting the strategic benefits of strong diplomacy is not naivete.