When Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the 1980s, once heard from his Soviet counterpart, Sergei Akhromeev, that it wasn't military failure that forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but the political stubbornness of the leadership in Kabul, which refused to take its advice.
In Jerusalem the situation is precisely the opposite. They insist on only taking advice or dictates from outside. For personal party and institutional reasons, it is easier to surrender than initiate. A former chief of staff, defense minister and foreign minister who wants to return to one or two of those positions but meanwhile is modest and doesn't want his name mentioned, said recently that Sharon's method of operation is to make contact between white glass and rice - meaning Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Weisglass has become the attorney for state security and policy and he prepares for his journeys like a lawyer who questions experts before going in front of a judge. On Tuesday afternoons, the heads or representatives of the various intelligence and planning branches show up in his office and he asks them questions and writes down their main points in his yellow legal pads.
Then he flies off to meet Rice and get the verdict from her. Sometimes there's some comfort in a certain degree of balance in the decision. The verbal formula might be rough on Sharon but her body language was good, and in relations between states, it's the body and its language that matters.
That's why those who say Sharon put the National Security Council out to pasture are wrong. The NSC is alive and well in Washington and headed by Rice. Israel doesn't have orderly staff work, just patches on patches. The head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan sharpened the operational aspects of the intelligence branch and turned its director into the chief field intelligence officer, but when he found out the government still expects broader insights, he formed an assessment division.
In the years when the Mossad was lax, it was said that while it was known this spy agency wasn't allowed to operate in Israel, it's wasn't clear why it didn't operate overseas. Dagan doesn't hesitate to use the Mossad domestically. For some reason, he has become involved in a matter that is none of his business - lobbying Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to name Shaul Mofaz's election campaign chief, Avner Barazini, as chief ombudsman for soldiers in the army.
Steinitz, whose enthusiasm makes up for his lack of experience, was persuaded and signed on. Sharon doesn't hide his contempt for Steinitz. In one of his appearances at the Knesset committee, Steinitz interrupted Sharon to say, "on this matter, I actually agree with you." Sharon looked over his shoulder at Steinitz and replied, "You have no idea how much that eases things."
While Sharon is picking on Dan Meridor, Mofaz is recruiting him. Meridor, a longtime-insider about Israel security development secrets will head a committee - yet another committee - to clarify Israel's security precepts. Meridor doesn't hide his desire to return to politics. It isn't he who grew tired of the profession. Ariel Sharon is the one who sent him into exile.
The worst example of the lack of staff work in the Sharon government is the Nasrallah deal for Arab prisoners in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omer Suweid. The secrecy around the negotiations is ridiculous. It wasn't meant to hide anything from Nasrallah, but from the Israeli public and the families involved, particularly Ron Arad's family. It also hides the talks from the ministries that are not represented in the prisoner-MiA committee, including the Foreign Ministry, which was astonished - in his day Moshe Sharett would have called it "monstrous" - to hear that Sharon and Mofaz are ready to free, among others, Jordanian citizens held in Israeli prisons.
If such a present could have been given directly to King Abdullah, say the experts in the foreign ministry, based on what Abdullah and his foreign minister Marwan Muasher have said, Israel could have seen the Jordanian ambassador back in Tel Aviv.
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