Does Israel have a long-term strategic plan?

Since there is no single body in charge of long-term strategic planning, the Prime Minister’s Office should create one.

Tel Aviv view (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv view
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Every year there is a new state budget with new cuts. What was approved last year has just been retracted. Half-built roads and incomplete infrastructure have been abandoned to gather dust. Metropolitan Tel Aviv still has no light rail or subway, even though plans to build them have been in the works for decades. Year after year the defense establishment is allocated more funds than any other sector, even though it is always has unused surplus from the previous year. The State of Israel has no long-term strategic plan, no clearly defined objective, no tools to measure accountability.
Six months ago, the Long-Term Socio-Economic Planning committee led by Prof. Eugene Kandel and Finance Ministry director-general Doron Cohen submitted its recommendations regarding state strategic planning. For over two years, the committee listened to reports from dozens of specialists and to advice from two strategic consulting firms. Its conclusion, which comes as no surprise, is that the government has no long-term strategic or integrated plan, nor does it have a comprehensive vision. The committee also believes that, due to institutional failure, there is also no hope that one day it will.
Since there is no single body in charge of long-term strategic planning, the Prime Minister’s Office should create one. No one has ever engaged in true and profound strategic thinking about our country’s vision.
No long-term decisions have ever been made in industry, infrastructure, personal security, education, Arab-Jewish relations, secular-religious relations, economic centralization, security or energy. Decisions are only made in times of crisis or due to pressure. Only when faced with a security threat or a social uprising do leaders finally take action.
Israel lags significantly behind most of the developed world. The government does not even meet the criteria that organizations subordinate to it follow. For decades the IDF Planning Branch has been following a multi-year plan. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the Mossad and the Israel Police also follow multi-year programs that have clear goals and performance indices.
It is imperative that an office for strategic planning be created at once (better late than never). However, for a strategic plan to be successful, there must be continuity.
The state’s vision and strategic plan cannot be changed every time a government is elected. To build and implement a multi-year plan that sets clear objectives and delineates which methods should be used to achieve them, the plan must remain constant over a significant period.
For a long-term strategic plan for the state to succeed, a number of basic processes need to be followed: First, all government offices need to participate in the preparation of said plan, including agreement about its goals and means to reach those goals. In addition, each office needs to have its own multi-year working plan before funds are transferred.
Second, the strategic headquarters needs to have the power and authority to synchronize activity in all government offices.
Third, to successfully implement a multi-year plan, there needs to be continuity. Governments should not be changed as often as they currently are. Each government needs to remain in power for a longer period in order for these plans to be more effective. And the only way this will happen is by carrying out reforms in the electoral process, which at present is not occurring.
But even before reforms are carried out, it is advisable to encourage new governments to follow plans that mesh with old ones.
So what’s the bottom line? Unfortunately, it’s quite disappointing. A strategic planning headquarters does exist, but it has no authority. The government does not have a culture of strategic planning and government offices do not coordinate efforts with one another.
Most important, each prime minister is not in office long enough to achieve any real goals. Instead, he spends all of his time fighting to stay in office. In such an atmosphere, it is impossible for any government to carry out long-term planning. The roads and trains will remain half-built, traffic jams will get longer, relations between different social communities will continue to be complicated and every year there will be more budget cuts. But who knows, maybe we will be in for a nice surprise next year.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.