What the Prime Minister Needs

The prime minister and the defense minister have extra responsibility, but this does not exempt all of their colleagues in the government from their relative share of the glory and the disgrace.

The fact that Cabinet ministers' shared responsibility for the government's policy and its implementation, and for its acts of commission and omission, was forgotten somewhere in Lebanon. The focus on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz is convenient as an abbreviation for and personalization of the entire group. It is also understandable, because Olmert, in his passive conduct - from the rise of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority through his functioning during the evacuation of the Amona settlement outpost to the war - has been a failed prime minister, and one who causes others to fail. And Peretz, who does not distinguish between a court and an office, has emerged as someone who finds it difficult to bridge the gap between building political power and operating a military force. They have extra responsibility, but this does not exempt all of their colleagues in the government from their relative share of the glory and the disgrace.

Three related conclusions should be derived from this fact: It is essential to have a national war room; the prime minister should also be the defense minister; and it is necessary to have better qualified personnel at the level that assists them. The ministerial committee on security matters must be bolstered by a national war room that includes representatives from the Israel Defense Forces, the intelligence community, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the economy, the home front, the police and the legal system, with a minister serving as the duty "combat manager." The database they use must always be up to date, broad and transparent, rather than a vertical axis from the "bunker" at General Staff headquarters to the defense minister and then from him to the prime minister, with a hasty report in advance of rare discussions.

There are reasons for objecting to handing the defense portfolio to the prime minister: the importance of checks and balances, the prime minister's insufficiency of time and attention for issues involving the defense establishment, and the fact that he would be biased in budget battles, in favor of the defense budget and against the Finance Ministry and other ministries. However, there are even better reasons for supporting the merger of the two roles in a country that is always engaged in combat and on the verge of war. The personal responsibility of one minister, the chief minister, for all parts of the system - the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Mossad (and the Home Front Command, until it is transformed into a civilian body) - will afford him a comprehensive view. This will compel him to remember that a decision in favor of one thing, such as "special means," inevitably entails deciding against something else that is no less important, such as beefing up the army with various weapons systems and training units in their use.

In such a structure, the prime and defense minister will be aided by two deputy ministers - one, for the secret services, in the Prime Minister's Office, and the other, for the IDF's preparedness, the military industries and development, in the Defense Ministry. In the split model, a strange trinity of director general, bureau chief and military secretary develops in each of these two ministries - even though there is only room for two in this bed: the director general, whose role is defined as head of the civilian staff, and the military secretary, who is responsible for liaison with the IDF, intelligence and the territories. The third role sometimes assumes the pretensions of "the White House chief of staff," in a system that does not resemble the American system, and sometimes turns into an overly senior and superfluous personal aide - if the other two do their jobs properly.

The National Security Council is subordinate to the prime minister. If it is disregarded, and if it is headed by someone whose voice is barely heard in the war councils, the person responsible is the one who created this situation - Olmert, who appointed former deputy head of the Mossad Ilan Mizrahi and demoted him to a position subordinate to his bureau chief, Yoram Turbowicz. The price of the way Mizrahi and Turbowicz have functioned needs to be charged to Olmert.

Additionally, a pin ought to be stuck in the balloon of the military secretaries, which has inflated considerably in recent years. For David Ben-Gurion, they were just colonels. After that, they were brigadier generals, or veteran major generals. Ariel Sharon was the first prime minister to promote an officer (Moshe Kaplinsky) to major general during his term as military secretary; he did this twice more, and the innovation became a sanctified custom with a continuation - from military secretary to general in charge of a command. A general is a general, and a secretary is a secretary; blurring these boundaries is a factor that contributes to diplomatic and military road accidents. This is what will be discovered if the proportion of politics in the IDF's blood is ever checked.