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The reports issued by the State Comptroller are often couched in dense language, which is comprehensible only to those deeply familiar with the subject. The non-expert reader is liable to give up in bewilderment in trying to cut through the thicket of detail concerning the network of relations between the bodies under scrutiny. This is especially the case when the comptroller deals with defense establishment and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Understanding requires prior acquaintance with the structure of the interconnected institutions in question.

A considerable part of the 2001 State Comptroller's Report, which was made public last week, is devoted to the defense establishment and the army. The report found flaws in several areas of the army's activity, but the most significant section is the one on the IDF's Planning Branch. Although the report analyzes mainly the mode of operation and the organization of the Planning Branch, and points to quite a number of serious flaws, a closer reading shows that the State Comptroller is again directing the public's attention, albeit with characteristically understated language, to the central problem in the process of articulating Israel's national security policy.

The problem the report describes lies in the absence of "a body in addition to the IDF, which is capable of providing [the political level] with an analysis that covers the full meaning of a given situation, from the system-wide level to the military-strategic level and ending with the political level."

What this means is that despite the centrality of the subject of national security in Israel, the country's policy- makers have not yet taken the step of setting up professional bodies to assist them to plan strategy and formulate political alternatives, with the result that they are compelled to rely almost exclusively on the staff work of the IDF. The army remains, therefore, the only tool that constitutes a "planning body" (in the language of the order issued by the high command defining the goals of the Planning Branch) for the political level, and the Planning Branch has become the "only integrated military-political body" in Israel.

The hopes attached to the creation of the National Security Council have faded, as the NSC has been unable to acquire the proper status.

So the IDF, to its detriment, is forced to engage also in political planning, though this should be outside its brief.

The reason for this state of affairs is that the political level consistently refrains from defining clearly the goals of national security policy, as to do so would entail making far-reaching strategic decisions, including decisions relating to the territories. In the absence of clear guidelines from the prime minister in connection with the strategic goals of the government's long-term policy, the IDF itself is compelled to demarcate the political-strategic framework that will enable it to crystallize its proposals into the desirable policy.

The consequence, absurdly, is that the political level complains that the army is engaged in political subjects, but at the same time forces the army to keep doing exactly that. One of the negative implications of this process, as the State Comptroller notes, is that "a General Staff strategic-analysis body, which is manned by army personnel whose point of view is largely military, is supposed to carry out a strategic analysis on political and civilian subjects for the political level."

The problem is exacerbated when it turns out that the Planning Branch actually has a dual role. Not only does it engage in political planning for policy-makers (political strategy), it also has as one of its central functions the task of planning the force-building of the IDF and its organization (military strategy).

The findings of the State Comptroller indicate that "the sphere of military strategy has not been adequately handled in recent years, due to the constantly growing investment needed to provide the response required by the political level for the political process." So the IDF, by focusing on political subjects and because of defects in the operation of the Planning Branch, ends up neglecting the whole issue of force building and formulating multi-year work plans.

The State Comptroller's report also addresses flaws that affect the efficiency of the Planning Branch. At the beginning of 1999 the General Staff instructed the Planning Branch to prepare a book on "IDF Strategy" as the basis for completing the "IDF 2000" plan. "It turned out," the State Comptroller writes, "that it was impossible to come up with a proper integrative product from the work of the various bodies that took part in the project. This is because the writers did not have a developed common theoretical base..."

In addition, the report says, the IDF did not succeed in realizing a multi-year plan in the recent period. True, the State Comptroller explains, this was due mainly to "the budget shortfall in multi-year security as adapted to the multi-year plan." However, the importance of the report lies not only in setting forth the reasons for the IDF's failure to realize its long-term plans; it lies in explaining the implications this has in terms of the need for improvisation and in the adverse affect on force building and on military planning for the future.

The result is that the only body in Israel with responsibility for strategic planning does not operate efficiently, one major reason for this being that it devotes too many resources to dealing with non-military subjects.

The solution is to establish civilian professional bodies that will engage in political planning and assist the government's policy-makers in formulating national security policy. Thus the IDF will go back to dealing with military subjects only, and its commanders will be full-time soldiers and not part-time statesmen.