Fear and Loathing in the Netanyahu Government

The fact that Uzi Arad, Netanyahu's longest-serving and most senior aide, chose to abandon him expresses his lack of trust in the prime minister.

Uzi Arad's resignation from his posts as national security adviser and head of the National Security Council reflect a deep crisis in Benjamin Netanyahu's job performance. The fact that Arad, Netanyahu's longest-serving and most senior aide, chose to abandon him expresses his lack of trust in the prime minister. And the circumstances of his departure - the foreign minister's refusal to name him ambassador to London - point to Netanyahu's increasing weakness vis-a-vis Avigdor Lieberman, the government's strongman.

At the end of his first term as premier, a dozen years ago, Netanyahu endeavored to establish a national security council. The idea was good, if not very original. It was copied from Britain's Committee of Imperial Defence and the U.S. National Security Council.

Uzi Arad - Yanai Yehiel
Yanai Yehiel

Ever since Henry Kissinger's glory days in the Nixon and Ford administrations in the 1970s, there have been Israelis who dreamed of imitating Kissinger's role as senior staff officer for the top decision maker and a negotiator on his behalf. And so, gradually, a national security "team," and then a "council," and finally a "staff" were created within the Prime Minister's Office.

The good intentions, however, disintegrated in the face of political and organizational realities. The foreign and defense ministries, the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff and the intelligence community - the Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence - were less than enthusiastic about sharing their power with an additional organization, one close to the prime minister. And both the ministers and the heads of the intelligence agencies soon discovered that prime ministers were in no hurry to confront them.

The national security staff was bolstered legislatively, but never became empowered in reality. It partly fulfilled its goal of serving as a resource for the ministerial security committee (in both its official incarnation as the security cabinet and its semi-official one as the forum of seven senior ministers ), but its influence over the prime minister and its effect on the cabinet's performance have been minuscule.

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon might be satisfied with the National Security Council's performance, but Netanyahu is a prisoner of Lieberman and of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And his bureau preferred to act through other advisers and external envoys.

The government's failures are mainly due to Netanyahu's personality and his zigzagging foreign policy. Improving the National Security Council's staff work and appointing a strong, decisive figure to head it will have to wait for the next prime minister.