The egos of the Israeli political class often undermine the effectiveness of the Mossad and other security agencies, former Mossad director Tamir Pardo said Tuesday.
Speaking at the Avnon Group-sponsored ISDEF Conference on Crisis Management at the EXPO for Defense Products in Tel Aviv, he started by discussing egos within the defense establishment.
“Ego is there the moment you become a high-ranking officer,” Pardo said. “It is not because of your black or green eyes, or because you are a nice person. To reach the top, it is because you have a certain personality and a certain ego.”
Bringing the issue into the complexities of cooperation between defense agencies in moments of crisis, he said: “It’s very nice, and you try to keep your ego aside. But it doesn’t work all the time. My belief, coming from the Mossad... is you need to clarify responses in a very clear way” in advance of a crisis so that issues of jurisdiction are ironed out beforehand. Otherwise, you are depending on good faith and people, which could work or it might not, as happened in the pandemic crisis.”
From there, Pardo expounded on the impact of the political class on intelligence, saying: “Politicians are fighting between themselves usually, and at the end of the day, it is a political decision about what to do” on any given policy issue.
“Because they are fighting with themselves, when you go one step down [to the intelligence and defense officials], it is much harder” to get cooperation and coordinated policy, he said.
“The answer is on the political level... we were not elected, we receive our mandate from our superiors, which at the end of the day are the ministers,” he added. “The moment they will start to solve problems between themselves, it will be much easier to solve problems on the second level, much more effective and much cheaper.”
However, Pardo said he did not have high expectations for the political echelon in light of their performance during the coronavirus crisis.
“There was a committee that was used [established] before the pandemic period,” he said. “The committee gave [listed] all the right things that should be done if there would be a pandemic. Nothing was done.”
“I met my counterparts from many other countries,” he added. “We discussed it [the politicians’ interference] – whether with chiefs of staff of the armed forces or directors of agencies like the Mossad or internal security agencies,” and they all had the same problem, he said with an air of resignation.
Much of the conference focused on IDF Home Front Command. OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Ori Gordin explained to visiting foreign military officers how Israel confronts a variety of crises.
Home Front Command has “two main challenges: saving lives and keeping the life routine” so that people are not only safe, but the country is also able to continue functioning as smoothly as possible, he said.
The IDF, the police, the firefighters, the federal and local governments and the government ministries all have to work together in the midst of rocket fire, earthquakes, floods, pandemics and other issues, Gordin said.
Israel might be more advanced than some other countries in thinking of and providing situation rooms for local officials to better engage in command and control of a crisis, he said.
Gordin said he was disturbed by footage of Ukrainian officials in their offices during rocket fire, whereas Israeli officials would be in protected areas.
Former Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino said once a crisis starts, there is no time for agencies to act without proper coordination, and that necessity leads them to cooperate and do what makes sense.
The conference chairman, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, complimented the special crisis agency RAHEL on its efforts to unify and coordinate disparate state agencies during various disasters.
Israel must preserve its right to use force in self-defense and to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon regardless of global negotiations, he said.
Ya’alon criticized the current government for waffling too much on condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.