Marching in Lockstep

If the military establishment has a loyal ally among the political elite, it is MK and Brigadier General (res.) Ephraim Sneh. When the IDF needs help from the political establishment in its battle over the defense budget, Sneh is always there.

If the military establishment has a loyal ally among the political elite, it is MK and Brigadier General (res.) Ephraim Sneh. When the Israel Defense Forces needs help from the political establishment in its battle over the defense budget, Sneh is always there.

Nor does Sneh confine himself to apocalyptic descriptions of the threats facing Israel. For example, he demanded five years ago already that Israel strike a preemptive blow at Iran. And his words apparently exert a nonnegligible influence on the policy-setters. After all, not only was he a senior officer, he has also been deputy defense minister, a minister in two governments and a senior member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for many years.

Last week, against the background of the Finance Ministry's desperate struggle to reduce the defense budget, Sneh hastened to give the IDF urgent assistance. He sent the prime minister and the other cabinet members a secret document, based on discussions held by the Knesset's Subcommittee for Security Perception, which he chairs. The report prepared by his committee, which examined geostrategic developments in the Middle East in light of the American war on Iraq, is an illuminating document, designed to warn the policy-setters against cutting the defense budget. With regard to the work plan prepared by the IDF, Sneh wrote: "This is a floor, and anything less than this - that is to say, another budget cut - would be irresponsible from the standpoint of national security."

The problem is that Sneh's document reflects the fixed mindset that all too frequently characterizes senior defense establishment officials. These officials have not succeeded, and to a large degree are not interested, in adapting to the geostrategic changes that have swept the Middle East. In this sense, the IDF is no different from other armies confronted by the knowledge that the threats that enabled them to obtain large budgets are disappearing. This is also what happened to the American defense establishment, which, after the Cold War, hastened to cultivate new enemies in order to prevent cuts in the defense budget.

In Israel, there is no need to cultivate new enemies. It is enough to ignore the developments that led to the disappearance of some of the old enemies and the weakening of others. Thus it is possible to argue that Iraq's departure from the circle of threats, the elimination of the threat of an eastern front, the stationing of a large American force in the region and the collapse of the Syrian army not only do not permit us to reduce our investments in defense, but, miraculously, oblige us to increase them. And when the finance minister tries to point out the contradiction, he runs into a unified front of senior defense establishment officials, who exploit their monopoly on intelligence information and security assessments to frighten those who are supposed to decide whether to cut their budget.

If members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were doing their job, they would try to supervise the army and to clarify its real monetary needs. Instead, most of them prefer to abandon the arena to Sneh. And Sneh never misses an opportunity to join in the campaign of intimidation that the army is waging. "The conventional wisdom, that the fall of Saddam Hussein dramatically altered Israel's strategic position, has no basis in reality," he declared. He is also not willing to give up on the eastern front so easily: "The ability to set up an eastern front depends first of all on Jordan's willingness to host such a front." In other words, don't give up hope.

But even if there is no eastern front, all is not lost: Sneh pulls out Saudi Arabia, which is "unstable" and has a large army, and Libya, which is trying to acquire nonconventional weapons. And of course, there is Iran, which is building the bomb. That the Syrian army is disintegrating is unimportant. In Sneh's document, the Syrian threat is becoming stronger. In short, our situation has never been worse.

In the absence of neutral agencies that oversee the defense establishment, Sneh's committee is viewed as the agency that is supposed to do this job. Unfortunately, instead of standing up to the IDF's campaign of fear-mongering, Sneh has joined it. But the problem is not the path that Sneh has chosen, but the absence of any other path. Knesset members have still not managed to free themselves of the paralysis with which the military-security mythos afflicts them - and at the moment of truth, they fall into line, march in lockstep and approve what the IDF asks.