Government Set to Appoint New Head of Atomic Commission

Brig. Gen. (res.) Ze’ev Snir will be the third senior IDF officer to hold the job.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, Dimona.
Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, Dimona.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Brig. Gen. (res.) Ze’ev Snir will be appointed head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) at one of the new cabinet’s first meetings.

Snir, a former air force officer, has spent the last eight years heading the Defense Ministry’s department of special means – a job that entailed responsibility, among other things, for protecting the country against nuclear or biological terror. He will be replacing Dr. Shaul Chorev, who has headed the IAEC since 2007.

Snir was tapped for the job by the previous government. However, his official appointment was delayed, on orders from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, due to the March election and the process of forming a new government.

The new government has also moved the job of liaising with the IAEC from the Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Ministry, which was headed by Yuval Steinitz in the last government, to the Energy and Water Resources Ministry, which is Steinitz’s new job. Though this switch was made primarily for political and personal reasons, it partially echoes the model adopted by the United States in the mid-1970s. That was when the Americans abolished the Atomic Energy Commission as an independent body and subordinated the renamed agency, now the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to the Department of Energy, with links to the Pentagon’s military nuclear network.

But while the Israeli Energy Ministry will now oversee the IAEC from an organizational and budgetary standpoint, the commission’s head is still appointed by the full cabinet on the prime minister’s recommendation. Also, he is still officially defined as “subordinate to the prime minister and reporting directly to him.”

Chorev reached retirement age in late 2014, but agreed to stay on until this summer because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t yet chosen a replacement when he called early elections last November, thereby freezing the appointment process.

Snir will be the ninth head of the IAEC and the third senior Israel Defense Forces officer to hold the job, following Chorev and Uzi Eilam (1976-1985). He is an aeronautical engineer with advanced degrees from U.S. military colleges.

Snir will have to navigate the commission through a complex period of both external and internal pressures: the Arab states’ demand for a nuclear-free Middle East; and the IDF’s demand to lower the share of the annual defense budget devoted to “special means,” at the expense of the share going to the army.

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