Political Dysfunction Under Netanyahu Has Become a Threat to National Security, Leading Think Tank Warns

In first, annual report of Institute for National Security Studies includes leadership failures — and not only external enemies — among key threats to country

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset on Dec. 22, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset on Dec. 22, 2020.Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Pool Photo via AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Dysfunction in the Israeli government is one of the greatest threats facing the country, a strategic analysis issued Wednesday by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies says.

This is the first time that the institute’s annual report points to internal domestic issues – as opposed to Israel’s external enemies – as a major threat to the country’s strategic situation. The institute’s annual strategic assessment has been published for the last ten years.

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The deficiencies in the functioning of the government were visible before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, but became fully apparent after the outbreak, the report states. “Following the coronavirus pandemic, Israel has been subject to a multidimensional crisis” involving the country’s health, its economy, its social situation and its governance, “which has been ongoing for close to a year and is in addition to the ongoing political crisis,” the report says.

“This complex crisis could undermine the foundations of national security in its wider sense, since it is leading to a weakening of the mechanisms of the state and its institutions, as reflected in functional difficulties, a paralysis of decision-making processes, a loss of public faith in the government (which has fallen dramatically over the past year) and in other institutions and in the undermining of social solidarity,” the report asserts. “This state of affairs affects the stability and the shared values that have characterized Israeli society and the public’s way of life.”

The report was published just after the governing coalition collapsed over its failure to pass a state budget, sending the country to its fourth election in roughly two years, scheduled for March 23. The outgoing government took office in May under the leadership of two rival politicians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan. According to their coalition agreement, Gantz had been due to take over as prime minister in November of this year.

In this context, the report describes “a low level of trust between the prime minister and the defense minister and other ministers, systematic compartmentalization and lack of cooperation on information, decision making, and taking responsibility, alongside damage to the standing of the institutional gatekeepers.”

The result, the report claims, has been paralysis and “the clear expression of this is the absence of a state budget and of a multi-year plan for the Israeli military, as well as the many acting [temporary] officials in major positions for a considerable period of time.”

The authors of the report warn of a prevailing sense among the public that the handling of the COVID-19 crisis “is tied to political, coalition and personal considerations,” damaging the ability to enlist the public in the campaign against the pandemic.

The report also expresses deep concern over how the government has chosen to deal with the health crisis, saying that “[t]he need to halt the spread of the pandemic has caused the unprecedented suspension of fundamental rights and liberties through emergency legislation, including some without parliamentary oversight.” As examples, the report cites the involvement of the Shin Bet security service and the military in monitoring civilians’ movements and the powers conferred on the cabinet, with “potentially dangerous consequences for democracy.”

The annual report also analyzes the implications of the start of the Joe Biden administration on January 20. The new administration would be expected to be less lenient towards Israel than the Donald Trump White House, says the report, which urges the Israeli government to take “a non-confrontational approach” to the Biden administration in an effort to avoid any damage to ties with the U.S.

Regarding the prospect of the Biden administration showing readiness to return to the international nuclear accord with Iran, the report recommends that Israel exercise extreme caution for the time being. “In the interim period until Biden enters the White House, it is important to avoid defiant steps so as not to do damage to the trust of the incoming administration and therefore to Israel’s ability to influence future steps regarding Iran,” the report says.

According to the report, it is unlikely that Biden will reverse Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or that it would return the U.S. embassy to Tel Aviv. However, it states, “it is reasonable to assume that the new administration would withdraw recognition of the legality of Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank.” About a year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the U.S. did not view Israel’s West Bank settlements as a violation of international law.

The report predicts that the Biden administration will return to traditional Democratic Party policies when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The Biden administration will challenge the Israeli government on the strategic goal of a solution of two states for two peoples, and in the process put a halt to the green light that the Trump administration gave to continued construction in all of the settlements, the demolition of Palestinian structures in Area C [the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control] and the other steps involving creeping annexation, which in our view block the possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state with territorial contiguity in the West Bank.”

The report also expresses the expectation that the new U.S. administration will ignore Trump’s so-called deal of the century for ending the conflict, which included a provision for Israeli annexation of about 30 percent of the West Bank.

The Institute for National Security Studies, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, is considered one of Israel's most influential and prominent think tanks. Academics and former army commanders are among the institute's senior researches.

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