(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The National Security Council should be coordinating Israel's campaign against Iran's nuclear weapons program, but the body established by the government in 1999 exists only on paper, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday.
The panel, headed by MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) was discussing the State Comptroller's Report on the National Security Council published on September 28.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote in the report that the NSC had failed to fulfill its function because "the prime ministers of Israel have preferred to have their own intimate forum for making decisions rather than a special body that would be responsible for providing orderly staff work for making decisions."
Lindenstrauss recommended passage of legislation clearly defining the functions of the NSC and its head, who also serves as the prime minister's security adviser.
Ilan Mizrahi, current head of the NSC, told the committee he had submitted the draft of a bill defining the council's responsibilities to the prime minister. "We received a green light from the Prime Minister's Office to prepare such a bill and have presented it to him," he said. "We hope the bill will be finalized and approved as quickly as possible."
Mizrahi said he endorsed all of the state comptroller's findings and was taking action to implement them.
Another of the comptroller's recommendations was that the NSC be given sole responsibility for preparing the agenda regarding national security issues for all meetings of the security and full cabinets.
In fact, according to Lindenstrauss's report, the NSC is left out of much of high-level security deliberations. It is not privy to all of the classified security information assembled by security agencies belonging to the IDF and the Defense Ministry, and is not, in general, treated seriously by them.
"The staff bodies of the security establishment are stronger than the NSC," said Ya'acov Or, head of the State Comptroller's Office security division. As a result, "the NSC does not provide the staff work for the cabinet," he said.
Summing up the meeting, Orlev said the committee endorsed the State Comptroller's Report and recommendations and that he would personally urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to push through the legislation prepared by Mizrahi.
Netanyahu was skeptical about the effectiveness of such legislation.
As prime minister in 1999, he was instrumental in establishing the NSC in the face of opposition from the army and defense ministry, which had enjoyed a monopoly on security matters until then. Netanyahu said he was shocked to find that all he had at his disposal for independent assessments of security and diplomatic matters was his adviser on diplomatic affairs and his military attache.
Netanyahu added that his successors, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, did not share his view on the importance of the council. "The NSC did not become the instrument I had envisaged and that had been recommended in the past," he told the Knesset panel. "It remained on paper."
Therefore, he said, what really mattered was that the prime minister believed in the NSC and gave it the authority it deserved. "It has to be in the prime minister's blood," he said. "It has to be deeply rooted in his concept of leadership."
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, who served as the head of the NSC for two years under Barak and Sharon, disagreed with Netanyahu, saying that new legislation was important to clearly define the council's functions.
According to Dayan, such a law should state clearly that the NSC is the body that defines and manages the national security agenda. It should call on the NSC to publish an annual national security assessment to serve as the basis for the government's operational program, he said. It alone should prepare the topics for discussion on national security matters for the meetings of the inner and full cabinets. The law should stipulate that the government is obliged to consult with the NSC before deciding to go to war, and call for the establishment of a national crisis management center to deal with extreme national emergencies, Dayan said.
He told The Jerusalem Post that the second Lebanon war proved how vital the need was for a strong NSC.