Disparaging the National Security Council

The manner in which the prime minister responded to the National Security Council report submitted to him last Wednesday illustrates in the clearest possible way the basic failure in his handling of the affairs of state.

The manner in which the prime minister responded to the National Security Council report submitted to him last Wednesday illustrates in the clearest possible way the basic failure in his handling of the affairs of state, as indicated in the report: Ariel Sharon told reporters that that he does not plan to discuss the report and, in any case, does not intend to consider its recommendations. This is what the prime minister says about a document that a considerable number of people worked on for more than a year. This work is anchored in the government decision of March 7, 1999 to establish a National Security Council. The content of this report is at least worthy of review and discussion.

Sharon responded like someone who views the report as a mega-attack, rather than an intellectual and managerial challenge to the decision-making process of the state's leadership. This is not surprising because the report outlines the work patterns of Israeli prime ministers and proposes a different model that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them. Without saying so explicitly, the report portrays a management routine common to most of Israel's prime ministers based on intuition, self-reliance, exclusive dependence on security intelligence without the input of political, social and economic assessments and a preference for management of daily affairs rather than decisions of principle, with a primary focus on political survival.

In fact, prime ministers reach their position without any master plan. They are indeed impressed by the weight of responsibility thrust upon them, but are reluctant to share their doubts over how to proceed. The fear that they will appear to be weak leads prime ministers to manage the affairs of state in an extremely centralized way, with the cabinet and government providing the backdrop for a system of government that ostensibly is functioning properly. The prime ministers do not present a platform for the ministers to discuss, but rather formulas for decisions, with the principal goal of staying in power.

The NSC document challenges this system of government. It was compiled by Uzi Dayan, who is slated to step down from the top role at the NSC in two weeks. Without entering here into the content of Dayan's recommendations - some will see them as banal and other will regard them as a rare display of simple wisdom - his main diagnoses are what count. Dayan's team is seeking to force the prime minister and his colleagues to consider the state and its needs from an overall perspective, to integrate the individual decisions they make and to understand that each of these decisions has an impact on the others.

"An Assessment of National Security" reminds the political echelon that there is a reciprocal relationship between the security situation and the political, economic and social situation. This report calls on the ministers to stop dealing with urgent problems from a narrow sectorial or personal perspective and to focus on defining the state's fundamental problems, identify its goals, set priorities and work out a program of action to attain these goals.

To illustrate this, the report recommends resolving the conflict with the Palestinians on the basis of the recognition that the Zionist identity of the state should be preserved, to define its borders now and to take into consideration the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs in the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

Dayan and the authors of the report, which include a number of ministry representatives, advisors from the academic world, and public and private sectors are cautious about proposing a specific solution for the confrontation with the Palestinians, but they urge the prime minister and his colleagues to think about the problem in terms of a decision between basic alternatives. Sharon does not like the report - not only because it raises questions about his work methods, but also because it presses him to make decisions on issues that he has avoided since his election.

The fateful decisions made by Israeli prime ministers during the past 30 years - from the Yom Kippur War to the erection of a separation fence - were a product of the current system. The severe consequences of many of these decisions make Sharon's scornful response to the report nothing short of insolent.