Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former members of the security cabinet told The Jerusalem Post Sunday they had witnessed their colleagues on the key forum voting on substantial issues without being prepared.
Unlike the United States, where the president decides security matters as the commander in chief, in Israel, that responsibility lies with a group of ministers appointed by the prime minister that usually includes the heads of the parties in his coalition. The holders of the Defense, Public Security and Justice portfolios are automatically part of the forum.
Former security cabinet ministers from across the political spectrum came out Sunday in favor of Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s demand that security cabinet members be briefed regularly by a military secretary who would be at their disposal. This would ensure that they have access to necessary information for decision-making that could save lives.
Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin, who participated in security cabinet meetings from 1984 to 2001 in various capacities, including as justice minister, found himself in the strange position of backing up Bennett.
“There is no doubt more information is needed, especially on very professional decisions,” Beilin said. “At times, I had to get my information in an informal way or to ask the prime minister or head of military intelligence for favors. Not having information has caused ministers to vote based on political alliances because they had no opinion. There should be someone whose job is to brief the security cabinet, whether individually or collectively.”
For example, Beilin pointed to the decision to develop and purchase the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, rather than Israeli and American alternatives.
“On issues like that, you receive impressions from both sides, and you need to better understand better why one is right and [one is] wrong,” he said.
Former Likud justice minister Dan Meridor said he constantly took time to prepare, learn and meet people to prepare for security cabinet meetings but that many of his colleagues did not.
Under current circumstances, he said ministers need to build trust with security officials to receive key information and prove they will not leak it.
“A lot of information is needed,” Meridor told Army Radio. “I still feel guilty when lives were lost that I didn’t do enough.”
Former National Religious Party chairman Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, who served in security cabinet meetings under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, said that only Sharon took steps to ensure his ministers received enough information ahead of key votes.
Levy, who admitted that he is personally bitter at Sharon for the 2005 Gaza Strip disengagement, said he is thankful to him, however, for regularly dispatching his own military secretary, current Kulanu minister Yoav Galant, to brief security cabinet ministers.
“It is important to know the information, what to ask, what to agree on and disagree on,” Levy said. “There were times we came and didn’t even know the agenda of the meeting due to excuses of security reasons. In certain security cabinet meetings, information has purposely been kept from ministers. There was no information before meetings and not enough information provided during them.”
Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel also endorsed Bennett’s position Sunday in a post on Facebook.
“From my time on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I realized the full, embarrassing and worrisome picture,” he wrote. “There have been security cabinet ministers who had no idea what was going on regarding key issues that they were supposed to be deciding.”