Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu adjourned a meeting of the security cabinet on
Wednesday over media leaks in a moment of anger. That is his
What he can’t do, however, is disband the body entirely
since this is the forum, ultimately, where a decision to attack Iran – if it
ever comes to that – would be taken.
There has been a great deal of
misinformation over the past few months about the question of who in this
country will decide whether to attack Iran. A few weeks ago there was an
impression created in the media that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
would make the decision alone.
There have also been reports that the
decision would be taken by the “octet” – Netanyahu’s informal body of senior
ministers – which was expanded to nine people with the addition of Home Front
Defense Minister Avi Dichter.
An example of this confusion already
appeared in March on The Daily Beast website, which ran an article headlined:
“Meet the Israeli ‘Octet’ That Would Decide an Iran Attack.”
Yehuda Ben- Meir, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies
in Tel Aviv who has written two books on how national security decisions are
made in Israel.
“A decision on Iran cannot be done without a decision by
the entire government,” he said, adding, “In constitutional matters, common
practice has a great deal of relevance.”
And the common practice,
Ben-Meir said, is that launching wars and major military operations needs the
approval of the whole government.
He cited the precedent of the rescue
raid on Entebbe in 1976, when then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin brought the issue to the full
“When I asked Rabin about it later,” said Ben-Meir, who served
as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1984, “he said it was clear that an
operation of such a magnitude needed the entire government’s approval. Secondly
he said that if the operation failed, he would have had to resign, and if he
needed to resign and bring down the government, this needed to be a decision
taken by all the ministers.”
Likewise, Ben-Meir said, then-prime minister
Menachem Begin brought the decision to attack the nuclear reactor in Iraq in
1981 to the full cabinet as well.
But this is where things get a bit
Begin brought the issue to the cabinet for a vote after the
planes had already taken off – but still with enough time to recall them. He,
too, felt the need to get the full government’s approval.
that since a decision to attack Iran would be so fateful, it was likely this
pattern would be followed today and the final decision would be voted on by the
full 29-member cabinet. But the in-depth discussion on the matter, as well as a
prior vote, would take place in the 14- member security cabinet.
also evident, he said, that following a discussion in the security cabinet and a
vote there, that the full cabinet vote would be nothing more than a
The security cabinet, known officially as the Minister’s
Committee on Security Affairs, is a statutory body empowered by the government
to make decisions on security and diplomatic issues.
The law stipulates
that in addition to the prime minister, the following five ministers must be
members of this forum: the holders of the defense, foreign, finance, justice and
public security portfolios.
Other ministers can be members of the
security cabinet as long as the membership of this body does not exceed half
that of the regular cabinet, which is why today there are 14 members in the
security cabinet, out of a 29-member cabinet. Four other ministers currently
have non-voting observer status.
Among the issues this body is authorized
to deal with are national security issues, national security policy and
objectives, foreign policy and military and security operations.
Ben-Meir said, basically entrusted the security cabinet with making decisions in
the name of the government on security issues. Those decisions, on a regular
basis, do not have to come to the full cabinet for a vote. On the matter of
major military operations, he repeated, the norm in this country is to bring the
decisions to the full cabinet.
Netanyahu and his spokesmen have been
careful over the past few weeks not to spell out how or in what forum a decision
to attack Iran would be made, beyond saying the prime minister would follow the
common process in the country.
While members of the security cabinet are
there either by virtue of the law or because the full cabinet appointed them,
the same is not true of what has been called the inner cabinet, or the seven,
eight or nine ministers Netanyahu regularly calls upon for
This body is a completely advisory body, and its members
are there upon Netanyahu’s discretion.
Indeed, the newest member –
Dichter – is not even a member of the security cabinet.
influential, this is not the forum that will decide on an attack on Iran. The
heavy lifting on that decision – the indepth discussion and a vote – will be
made in the security cabinet, and that decision will likely be brought at the
last minute to the full cabinet for a pro forma endorsement.
adjourned the security cabinet meeting on Wednesday because of anger over leaks.
He did not disband the forum – that power he does not have.