Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Netanyahu names professionals to his new inner military-security cabinet
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis
March 31, 2009
During his years in opposition, the incoming Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu turned over ideas for making his next government substantially more effective and efficient than any of its predecessors, including his own, which ended disastrously ten years ago. Preparing to take over as Israel's 32nd prime minister this week, he bound 7-8 ministers and senior officials into a powerful new body to assist him in top-level decision-making on military, diplomatic, security and intelligence policy-making and actions. Its members fall into two main groups, military and strategic-intelligence. Their input will guide Netanyahu's steps on such critical matters as whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities or the tenor of his government's relations with the Obama administration.
It will be up to him as prime minister to pick his way among the divergent views offered him, because the members of the two teams, far from being yes-men, are individualists on the security issues in their fields of expertise.
While taxed with pulling together to produce the best strategic, economic and military guidelines for the country, each at the same time will want to leave his imprint on the next chapter in Israel's history.
The four ministers are ex-chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, foreign affairs, Dan Meridor, intelligence and nuclear energy, and Benny Begin, minister without portfolio.
Dr. Uzi Arad, who is in line as Netanyahu's national security adviser, and the heads of Israel's three intelligence arms, Mosad, Shin Bet and AMAN will be attached to the team.
DEBKAfile's military sources note, that political views aside, this group ranks as Israel's A-team in terms of professional competence in the most sensitive policy areas Netanyahu will be called on to confront in his first weeks in office.
Yaalon's appointment as czar for strategic affairs aspires to learn from Lieberman's failings in this capacity in the outgoing Olmert administration. One of his advantages is that he will have no hang-ups about working with defense minister Ehud Barak. Because they respect each other and because as a former army man, he will defer to the defense minister both as his superior in the chain of command and the more experienced in military affairs, Yaalon will not find it hard to cooperate with Barak.
New to politics, his ranking will approximate that of deputy defense minister, a post which Barak handed formally to his fellow-Laborite Matan Vilnai, who will focus mainly on organization.
If this teaming-up works out, the new government will boast a four-man military leadership made up of Netanyahu, Barak, Yaalon and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi.
Dan Meridor's task is more complex and chancy: He must carve out a new niche as boss of intelligence and nuclear affairs, the first minister to officiate in this task in any Israeli government. His function is political and diplomatic, unlike Egypt's intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman, who comes form the army.
In filling this complicated slot, Netanyahu acted on a recommendation common to every inquiry commission examining the lapses and errors in Israel's conduct of previous wars and all the secret panels dissecting the competence of its intelligence services. They all recommended the concentration of Israel's clandestine spy and security agencies in one hand for the sake of operational coordination.
Meridor will have his work cut out to assert interdepartmental authority over the innately reclusive Mossad (external intelligence), Shin Bet (domestic intelligence) and AMAN (military intelligence), as well as the foreign ministry's research and intelligence department and the national security council.
The weights tied to his feet include bad relations with the new prime minister. To have any hope of changing the policies bequeathed by the outgoing Ehud Olmert, Meridor will have to cultivate Netanyahu's close adviser and friend, Uzi Arad, who is an old intelligence hand, in the same way as Yaalon and Barak will need to work in harmony.
On the credit side, the new intelligence minister and prime minister share a friend in Benny Begin, who both admire. If Begin can bury the hatchet between them, Israel will acquire the services of a powerful intelligence-strategic policy-making team of four at one end of the spectrum to match the military grouping at the other.
As prime minister, Netanyahu will be supplied with first-rate, professional position papers from the two groupings. He will have the option of balancing them against each other before reaching decisions.