PM office 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The National Security Council will move from Ramat Hasharon to Jerusalem this week in what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told The Jerusalem Post was an attempt to strengthen the largely underused organization.
But the physical move has left two former NSC heads - Uzi Dayan and Giora Eiland - unimpressed, adding that a physical relocation is meaningless unless accompanied by enhanced powers.
Olmert said that all of Israel's prime ministers were, in principle, "ill-equipped with the staff work that is necessary for every prime minister to be able to weigh the different options and make decisions on that basis." He said that he had wanted to move the NSC to his office from the first day he took office. "I wanted to strengthen the NSC and want to create an entirely different basis for its daily operations," Olmert said.
He said this body, which is tasked with preparing and analyzing various options for the prime minister, "needs to be close to the prime minister." One government source said that while Olmert had been talking about moving the NSC to his offices since the spring, a decision was made soon after the recent war in Lebanon, and that this could be seen as one of the lessons that he learned from the war - the need to have a more effective, organized and streamlined decision-making process.
The source said that physical proximity to the prime minister was essential. "There is a huge difference in the impact you will have if you sit in the Prime Minister's Office, or in Ramat Hasharon," the official said.
As a result of the move, the new head of the NSC, Ilan Mizrachi, will be privy to Olmert's schedule and be able to determine which meetings he wants to sit in on, rather then have to wait for an invitation and come in from Ramat Hasharon.
But both Eiland and Dayan said the physical move was not enough to upgrade the body's effectiveness.
"This is a good development, but using the mathematical analogy, it is necessary, but not sufficient. The problem is not where the NSC is situated, but in its powers and functions," Eiland said.
Eiland, who is very critical of the country's decision-making process, said that ideally the NSC should be privy to all state secrets and discussions, and be the body that decides the security and diplomatic agenda to present to the government for discussion. In addition, he said, it should ensure that the government sticks to that discussion, and then also be the body to follow up to ensure implementation of decisions that came out of those discussions.
Eiland said that since the NSC has not been given expanded powers or a more defined mandate, the decision to move its offices represents little more than a "change in geography."
Dayan was even more critical. He said that it was "an absolute necessity given the current inexperience of the Israeli leadership" for the NSC to be given statutory powers and be fully integrated into the decision-making processes. He said that the organization should be legally empowered as the sole organization that advises the government on matters of strategic national security.
"The security challenges Israel is facing in the coming years - preventing Iran from obtaining operational nuclear capability, stopping Hizbullah from becoming a second al-Qaida, fighting terrorism effectively, coming to an arrangement with the Palestinians, and preparing the home front - demand a strong and effective National Security Council integrated into the power structure, and this needs to be entrenched in law. The move to Jerusalem needs to be accompanied by the power that is in Jerusalem," Dayan told the Post.
"The current leadership troika [Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz] has no security-diplomatic experience to speak of," said Dayan, an outspoken critic of the Olmert government. "It needs to strengthen the National Security Council, but in effect it is threatened by a strong NSC. There is nobody in Olmert's staff with the required security-diplomatic experience necessary to make decisions for this country."