Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Think tank proposes bill to define IDF-government relations

Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

A group of experts from the Institute for National Security Studies has drawn up a draft law which defines, for the first time, the nature of the relationship between the government and the Israel Defense Forces, and the division of powers and responsibility between the two bodies. In its report on the Second Lebanon War, the Winograd Committee said the lack of such organizational clarity was a "structural weakness" which "critically" needed repair. The proposed law, which was sent to Haaretz, will be disseminated among cabinet ministers and Knesset members in the near future.

The INSS proposal touches upon a range of issues, such as the declaration of war, setting strategic goals and defining what types of authorization IDF operations in enemy territory require. "It gives leeway to leaders to act in accordance with their job requirements," Dr. Shmuel Even, a senior research fellow at the INSS, explained. "The main problems we have identified lay in the executive branch's inspection of the army. That's where the vacuum exists."

In 1974, the Agranat Commission - appointed to investigate the circumstances that led to the Yom Kippur War - wrote that the relationship between the army and the executive branch needed to be set in law. As a result, a Basic Law was passed in 1976 that officially subjected the army to the government and defense minister, but the law is believed by many to be too vague and general.

In comparison, a law passed a few years ago that defines the relations between the government and the Shin Bet security service goes into much deeper detail. According to the INSS, their proposal will complement the existing Basic Law and determine which responsibilities are placed under the authority of which government officials with regard to the army.

The existing Basic Law does not mention by name the position of the prime minister, though certain military operations require his direct authorization. The Winograd Committee considered the army to be placed under the authority of the defense minister and prime minister, though such an interpretation lacks any factual basis in law.

Another issue the INSS proposal addresses is the Basic Law's definition of the Israel Defense Forces as a "the state's army." It claims the army's purpose should be clearly defined as "defending the State of Israel, its citizens and suzerainty; to carry out any legal order given to it by the government to ensure state security and peace for its citizens." The INSS experts say their definitions are flexible and lawmakers and army officials may want to add or subtract clauses from the proposal.

Lebanon's lessons learned

Even says that the idea to draw up the proposed law and campaign for its legislation was influenced by the government's conduct during the Second Lebanon War.

"A few months before the war we had a very strong trio that included a prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff who were very professional and knowledgeable in security matters," Even said. "Then, during the war we had a different trio who lacked elementary knowledge, and this requires regulation by law. If we are satisfied with leaving it to the government, then it might disappear. This way, they will understand their responsibilities and what they need to know when they are appointed"

Former National Security Council director, Major General (res.) Giora Eiland, and Zvia Gross, a former legal aide to the Defense Ministry, were also part of the team that drafted the proposal. A senior IDF official who has read the draft believes the army will accept most of its suggestions. Yet experts believe the IDF is comfortable with the current situation which does not impose legalities that narrows its method of conduct with the executive branch.

"The executive branch in charge of the IDF must take more of an interest in what goes on inside the army and has to treat the chief-of-staff like a managing director," Even warned. "On most issues the chief-of-staff decides for himself and only in a few percent of incidents are they brought to the ministers' attention - but the government must not avoid its duty of defining what it should deal with."

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