Another Appointment on the Path to Militarism

There is nothing new about the dominance - unexampled in any other democracy - of the Israeli army in setting policy, though in the present government the phenomenon seems to be assuming extreme dimensions.

The appointment of Major General Amos Gilad as head of the new political security department in the Defense Ministry has two important implications. First, the Sharon-Mofaz-Ya'alon axis, whose members - the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff - have an identical approach concerning the future of Israel's relations with the Palestinians will be significantly reinforced. Second, the trend of setting policy almost exclusively on the basis of the staff work done by the Israel Defense Forces will be strengthened. Amos Gilad will continue to be an IDF branch in the Defense Ministry even when he steps out of uniform.

There is nothing new about the dominance - unexampled in any other democracy - of the Israeli army in setting policy, though in the present government the phenomenon seems to be assuming extreme dimensions. Civilians - and civil worldviews - have been totally excluded from any involvement or influence in the diplomatic process.

The Knesset has long since been neutralized with respect to involvement in decisions involving policy and strategy, and the prime minister does not usually ask cabinet ministers to take part in setting policy. The few who are involved and who exert influence on such decisions are army men, in and out of uniform, who continue to view the world through a gunsight. These people are Sharon himself, Moshe Ya'alon, Shaul Mofaz - and now Amos Gilad as well. They alone will formulate Israeli policy on the Palestinian question.

They will get their information, evaluations and proposals for policy guidelines solely from the army. Two years ago, the State Comptroller already noted the absence of "another body, in addition to the IDF, which would be capable of supplying [to the political level] an analysis that would include the full implications of a given situation, from the systemic level, to the strategic military level, and finally the policy level."

The army thus remains the only instrument that constitutes a "planning body" for the political level, and its Planning Branch has become "the only military-political integrative planning body" in Israel. Gilad's new department will not have the tools that are required to conduct policy planning, and he too will have to rely on the IDF for information, evaluations and data.

Thus it was the Planning Branch, and not civilian experts or elected politicians, who drew up Israel's answer to the road map, which will likely be the basis for the political process in the months ahead. The problem is, as the State Comptroller observed, that "a General Staff body that engages in strategic analysis, and manned by army personnel whose point of view is mainly military in character, is supposed to carry out a strategic analysis on policy and civilian affairs for the political level."

The prime minister has welcomed the establishment of the new department in the Defense Ministry, as he knows full well that the new body will not formulate new political initiatives that run contrary to his worldview. Sharon and Mofaz are familiar with Gilad's approach, which dovetails well with their own.

Gilad's position on the Palestinian question is blunt and unflinching. He was always against the Oslo Accords, he gave frequent expression to his negative view of Yasser Arafat in language replete with true hatred, and he insists vehemently that Israel must not conduct negotiations under fire. Most worrisome, though, is his tendency to conjure up apocalyptic scenarios. In 1991, for example, he said the Iraqis would fire nonconventional missiles at Israel, in August 2001 he stated that Israel might find itself sustaining five serious terrorist attacks a day, and on the eve of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon he said that the northern communities would be in perpetual danger, as Hezbollah would attack with flat-trajectory fire. That, it would be recalled, was also the opinion of Mofaz and Ya'alon at the time.

Gilad's view of Israel's relations with the Palestinians is apparent from his position as coordinator of government activities in the territories for the past two years. It would be difficult to say that he tried to assist the civilian population very much, even though that is the essence of the coordinator's task, and frequently it seemed that he welcomed the government's tough policy.

The attitude toward the media of the individual who was appointed "national commentator" during the just-concluded Iraq war is apparent from several of his statements. "There is a pathological pattering here that is endangering the security of the state," he scolded reporters who attended his briefing ahead of the war. And in a lecture he delivered in November 2001, he said, "The media are serving terrorism, uncovering military and operational secrets, distorting reality in favor of the other side, and have no red lines."

The appointment of General Gilad as head of a department in the Defense Ministry is another step in the process of militarization that Israeli society is undergoing. It's one more contribution to the removal of policy and diplomacy from the people's elected representatives and their placement in the hands of the army.