Just Cool It

The updated version of the "cooling-off" law, which was approved by the Knesset in its first reading, will force officers from the rank of brigadier general to lieutenant general to cool their heels for two years from the time they leave the army until they can enter the Knesset.

"There's nothing new on the front," wrote the man who would be prime minister and defense minister to the man who would be his deputy and foreign minister. And, in reference to the man who would be defense minister and foreign minister, the writer continued: "I'm bringing him up to speed; this fellow isn't entirely well versed in what's going on. The way I see it, he lacks even minimal military understanding of anything beyond the level of company or battalion. He is completely without tact when it comes to dealing with people."

That is how Yitzhak Rabin, in an October 1949 letter to Yigal Allon, described the man whom Rabin was then already calling the "antique dealer" - Moshe Dayan, according to documentation now released by the state archivist. Allon was the general who was dismissed without warning, while on a visit abroad, from his post as GOC of the Southern Command; Rabin was his replacement until the arrival of the new general, Dayan. The three men took their relationships and their residual tensions to politics, in particular to the turbulent decade that began in 1967. And so did the generations that succeeded them - of Ezer Weizman and Ariel Sharon, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Yitzhak Mordechai, Matan Vilnai and Shaul Mofaz.

The updated version of the "cooling-off" law, which was approved by the Knesset in its first reading, will force officers from the rank of brigadier general to lieutenant general to cool their heels for two years from the time they leave the army until they can enter the Knesset. The memory of the slings and arrows they suffered in their army service may not dim, but there would be a lessened fear that consideration of future assignments might influence high-ranking military leaders in their contacts with politicians.

However, we should not suspect politicians of considering what is best for the country: It is not the uniforms that put them off, but the media, and the media eminence of the chief of staff, the police commissioner, and all the other fellows who wear ranks and paratrooper wings. Because the fellows in the Knesset cafeteria prefer canned food to fresh meat. Moshe Ya'alon will be accepted only when he is as forgotten as Moshe Levy, and Dan Halutz as Dan Shomron. Even the officers suspected of being motivated by alien considerations are hardly innocent, and their cooling-off period is justified, so that their farewell send-off from the Israel Defense Forces will not segue into a party celebrating their entry into the office of defense minister or prime minister. This is an unacceptable phenomenon that the law should prevent, and it would be best if this were delineated in parliamentary terms - a high-ranking officer may not become a cabinet minister or Knesset member until the completion of the first Knesset that is elected after his retirement from the army.

Indeed, lawmakers in Israel have for decades championed the American model, which dictates that generals and admirals must wait 10 years before being appointed secretary of defense. In principle, the desire for a cooling-off period is warranted, but it's a false analogy. The American law provides for a special exemption (which was issued during the Korean War to retired general George Marshall, who was appointed as secretary of defense by Harry Truman, to soften the blow of the dismissal of the commander of forces in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur). It does not forbid the appointment of a high-ranking officer soon after leaving the armed forces, of preventing him from serving as the secretary of another department, or being elected to Congress, or most importantly of all (see: Dwight Eisenhower) to serve as president - who is, after all, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The biggest shortcoming of the Israeli cooling-off law - so much so that it casts doubt on the law's constitutional legitimacy - is what it is missing: On the face of it, it contradicts the Basic Law on Freedom of Employment, as it places a severe limitation only on the alumni of very specific sectors, while others can make do with 100 days of cooling at most. It is a good thing that high-ranking figures in the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israel Police have to wait; that the Mossad is linked to the other services is obvious, in areas such as wages and conditions of service, even though it is not any more part of this matter than is the Foreign Ministry. It is a bad thing that the law disregards judges, high-ranking officials (such as the state's attorney general, ranking members of the State Prosecutor's office and the civil service commissioner) and essentially every director general and high official in an administrative authority liable to deliberate in favor of someone who could be beneficial to him should be wish to enter politics, or who is liable to exploit his position on the stage given to him, to promote his own interests.

The danger inherent in this approach is its logical follow-through - the only individuals immune to cooling off and being replaced would be the politicians themselves. The solution to this is acceleration of the rate at which our parliamentarians leave the Knesset, by limiting the number of terms of office to three, not to exceed 12 years.