What Is Good for the Head Is Bad for the Government

Israel will need a new National Security Council chief on Dec. 1 after Ilan Mizrahi, former deputy chief of Mossad, the silent and gray handler of agents, joins his frustrated predecessors.

"The National Security Council is seeking employees with experience and specialization in international policy, Middle Eastern studies, with an emphasis on Iran, the super powers, and energy."

These employment advertisements list the following desired qualities in potential candidates: independent and original thinking, highly capable of distinguishing between what is important and what is trivial, broad view of issues, excellent writing and verbal skills. Required education: graduate degree or higher - higher than that of most members of the government.

In about a month the State of Israel may have to advertise in search of a new head of the NSC. Ilan Mizrahi, former deputy chief of Mossad, the silent and gray handler of agents, resigned, and on December 1 he will join a group of frustrated predecessors who held the same position during the eight years of the NSC's existence. He, like them, realized that through decisions and legislation it is possible to force the government to set up a body, but it is impossible to force it to take it into consideration.

During the past three years, the NSC's opinion was sought after by three different bodies: the State Comptroller for a special report; the Winograd Committee for its interim report; and the Shahak Committee, set up to implement the Winograd recommendations. Nonetheless, no substantive change in its status is expected. They do the minimum necessary, talk about the beginning of implementing Winograd's recommendations, but they really only mean that they will mark a check, for task completed.

There is no mad rush to head the NSC. Those interested in the post are those who would like it to serve as a stepping stone for advancement, including department heads in the Mossad and reservist brigadier generals. Those whose names were mentioned as desirable candidates, like Major General (res.) Uri Sagi, do not want the job if it remains in its current format. Sagi, who headed Military Intelligence and retired from the IDF 12 years ago, is now more influential during his two-day-a-week volunteering in the army as an adviser to the chief of staff and to the head of Military Intelligence. It is fair to assume that his influence on important activities had been much greater than that of Mizrahi as head of the NSC. It is unclear how, when, and if at all Mizrahi was privy to fateful operational secrets.

There is no doubt that the NSC is essential. All the other organizations - the Defense, Foreign and Finance ministries, the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, and the police, to mention only the central ones - operate in a linear fashion, each in its own area. The NSC is supposed to operate across these lines, covering the empty spaces, painting a complete picture from different bits of information. But for the political leadership and the senior government officials, the most important task is to get along with the prime minister. Therefore, they keep quiet and are delinquent in their duty, even those who know that what is good for the government - even the government itself - is not identical to what is good for the prime minister. For the most part the ministers, even those who are considered influential, self deprecate themselves before the prime minister, and even before his aides.

Ehud Olmert, like his predecessor, finds it convenient to regard the head of the NSC as one of his four or five secretaries, working along with the director of his bureau, his chief of staff, his military secretary, and his bureau chief. The reports of the NSC are given only to the prime minister, and then only if he agrees are they passed on to other cabinet members. This distorts the purpose of the NSC, which is meant to serve as a "task force for the prime minister and the government."

The prime minister and the government are not the same body - they are different and complimentary. The responsibility of the ministers is collective, and sticks to them even when they try to shake it off, passing it on to the head of the government. Defense Minister Ehud Barak understands this, but he makes do with only weak opposition to the NSC's complete subordination to the prime minister, as he peeks into the future, hoping to return to the premiership. Thus Barak is deterred only by the thought of restoring the prime minister to his natural dimensions.

Greater power is the trap for Olmert. The more powerful he becomes, the harder it will be for him to evade Winograd. If indeed the final report of the Winograd Committee, in its effort to avoid referring to individuals - which would require a long process of warning letters and challenges - recommends, anonymously, harsh measures against the government in power during the war months, there will be little difference between the body and its head.