The Basic Law on the Army states that "the army is under the authority of the government." The subordination of the top brass to the government is what distinguishes democracy from military dictatorships, and the protection of this principle is essential in times of tension, crisis and war.
In television interviews Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in Israel's democracy, "the government decides and the professionals carry out the decisions." This hierarchy is correct. But politicians' responsibility does not end with asserting their authority over the army.
The experts do not only "carry out" government decisions, they take part in making them and must recommend to the government the right way to carry them out. The prime minister and cabinet members must seek the advice of the military and intelligence chiefs before they make fateful decisions about war and peace.
The question of relations between the Israel Defense Forces and its political superiors has been at the heart of many crises, from the War of Independence to the Second Lebanon War. It has now come up again.
At the center of the argument between Netanyahu and our military leaders is the question of taking the first step in a war against Iran. Netanyahu says he has not decided whether to go to war. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz opposes attacking Iran before the U.S. elections and without coordinating it with the Americans. According to Gantz, unilateral Israeli action in the coming weeks would be a serious mistake; many in the IDF and intelligence community share his opinion, as did their predecessors.
Gantz's position is well considered, persuasive and based on his best judgment as a military commander responsible for building and training a military force and crafting war plans. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak should heed the chief of staff's warnings and not hastily embark on a war against a regional power without the backing of as important an ally as the United States.
Accepting Gantz's recommendation will not detract from the government's authority and responsibility. The chief of staff will continue "to be under the authority of the government and subordinate to the defense minister," as the Basic Law states, even if his recommendation is accepted and Israel is spared a dangerous military operation.
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