Opinion

What an Israeli Government of Generals Will Bring

Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. But what about the military-political complex?

Kahol Lavan party leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya'alon, April 1, 2019.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Three former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces want to run the country. All of them – individually and all together – have a perfect solution for “the Gaza problem,” and they’ve probably also crafted a solution to the Iranian threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They say the same thing: Force, deterrence and, if need be, targeted killings, and then we’ll see.

They know security, only security. They and they alone know the IDF’s true capabilities – the capabilities that were the subject of a scathing report by IDF Ombudsman Yitzhak Brik on the IDF’s readiness. His findings were similarly harsh regarding the capabilities that the previous chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, boasted about. Each of them is thoroughly familiar with the others’ personal files and is well aware of their weaknesses and real positions, not necessarily those being presented at parlor meetings for the campaign.

If a miracle happens and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan manages to oust Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel will be run by a military council that may know just where and how to trim the defense budget, and how many F-35s and submarines Israel really needs, and whether it’s really necessary to draft the ultra-Orthodox. But the public will have no way of examining this.

>> Read more: Israel's Arab voters must say: Good night, blue and white | Opinion ■ It's Gantz or Smotrich | Opinion

Imagine how tough it will be for current Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi when he has to tussle with his predecessors over the defense budget, strengthening the IDF, waging the war against Hamas or handling another intifada in the West Bank. All three know better what to do. If Kochavi wants to take the opposite position or question military policy, he’ll have to dig himself a hole to hide in.

The members of this military triumvirate don’t share any great love for one another, but just wait until they have to close ranks against the chief of staff to keep their party intact and ensure its political stability. All of a sudden they’ll be the tightest of brothers-in-arms. The chief of staff, as well as the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service, won’t stand a chance versus these three experts.

The system of checks and balances that existed between Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the security services is what halted an attack on Iran and forced the prime minister to obtain an agreement in Gaza before that agreement became a hostage to the election campaign. Who could possibly criticize or rebuff a security policy signed by three former IDF chiefs of staff? Not even a serving chief of staff.

In his 1961 farewell speech, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the potential dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower said. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” 

This warning is all the more pressing for Israel given that a military-political complex officially seeks to run the country. The election of former military chiefs to key political positions is perceived in Israel as such an obvious move, one that conveys security and trust free of corruption and manipulation, one that embodies the Israeli ideal and reinforces the country’s national-military identity. This is so much the case that it obscures the inherent absurdity of the situation: People who headed the country’s most undemocratic institution will now shape Israel’s democracy.

And why not? “IDF values” have long been identified with the values of Zionism and the Jewish people. The belief that the IDF is the world’s most moral army is part of the Jewish religion. When gauging the stability of regimes in the Arab world, the question always arises: Does the army support the government and the president? In Israel, the army is about to become the government.

Granted, there may be no better option right now than Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, because the government of generals looks like the only way to replace an utterly rotten leader. But it’s a choice that promises sleepless nights.