“Soldiers v Politicians: Israel’s Generals and Their Troubled Relationship with the Elected Cabinet”
The Economist, March 14, 2016
“All is not well between Israel’s cabinet and the generals who supposedly report to them. Major-General Herzl Halevi arrived at the Knesset on February 23rd for what was planned as a routine briefing for members of the defence committee of Israel’s parliament. Instead, the chief of military intelligence delivered a stark warning. Despite efforts by the Palestinian militant movement Hamas to maintain the ceasefire around the Gaza Strip, he said, the lack of economic development in the coastal enclave, currently under joint Israeli and Egyptian blockade, would inevitably lead to humanitarian catastrophe and another round of violence between Israel and Gaza. What General Halevi left unsaid is that there has long been disagreement on Gaza’s future between Israel’s government and its men and women in uniform. Going back as far as the bloody coup in 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza (from which Israel withdrew in 2005), the generals and members of the National Security Council have advised the politicians to find ways to help Gaza’s economy, opening up the blockade and building infrastructure, including a seaport there. The rationale is that better economic prospects would deter the Palestinians from firing missiles on Israeli towns. But successive Israeli governments, bolstered behind the scenes by neighbouring Egypt’s enmity towards Hamas, have not been enthused by these proposals. … The tension between the government and the security establishment is largely due to the generals’ belief that economic incentives and dialogue will prove more efficient in curbing Palestinian attacks than further crackdowns. Last year, the main cause of disagreement was the generals’ reluctance to echo Mr Netanyahu’s warnings of the dire consequences of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the international community. In briefings they have even spoken of the ‘opportunities’ the deal could afford Israel’s security. … Despite the IDF’s central role in Israeli society—where most of the Jewish majority take part in compulsory military service, and the army uniformly ranks in surveys as the most popular of national institutions—the generals are usually careful to not overstep the line in public. Ultimately they have deferred to their political masters.”
Quickie analysis: Israel’s active generals seem to be trying to protect the state, not grandstand for the next election. Too bad their advice is not being heeded.