Israeli Cabinet Members Back Revocation of PM’s Newly Expanded War Powers

A controversial new law lets the prime minister declare war in consultation with only the defense minister, in some situations

Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Moti Milrod

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation endorsed Sunday a draft law that would revoke the prime minister’s power to declare war under certain circumstances in consultation with the defense minister alone.

The Knesset passed a law in April that in extreme circumstances allows the prime minister to declare war in consultation with the defense minister only, but the passage of the law sparked intense criticism and since then, members of the security cabinet have been seeking support for the repeal of the provision.

The bill approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation constitutes the coalition’s support for presenting a bill to return the law to its wording prior to April’s change. If passed, the law would again state that approval of a declaration of war should be made by a majority of those present at a cabinet meeting, but it would not say how many cabinet members or which members need to be present.

Explanatory notes for the new bill state that although such a decision should be taken by as broad a group of ministers as possible, an inflexible quorum should not be required because “there may be unusual circumstances in which there is a need to urgently make a decision without the possibility of convening broad [cabinet] attendance.”

In reverting to its pre-April version, the law that a declaration of needs the support of members present at a cabinet meeting would mean that, in principle, the prime minister could declare war alone or via a limited group of ministers whose support he is assured of, if that is who attends the cabinet meeting.

Members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which considered the issue, said it was not reasonable for a prime minister to declare war alone. Since Israel’s founding, prime ministers could do so, but they have refrained from acting alone to declare war, the committee members noted.

One member of the security cabinet told Haaretz that even though in “an extreme scenario,” the prime minister could declare war alone, “it would be crazy to think that it would really happen.” Prime ministers would want the maximum support possible in going to war, the source added, “particularly to deal with an investigative committee afterward.”