Knesset beefs up status of National Security Council

FADC approves bill that would formally establish NSC as an official body, with a status parallel to that of Mossad and Shin Bet.

Knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a vote reflecting the lessons of the Second Lebanon War, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would formally establish the National Security Council (NSC) as an official body, with a status parallel to that of the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). The bill, which its sponsors, MKs Amira Dotan and Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) said was an answer to flaws in the decision-making processes described in the Winograd Report, seeks to anchor the NSC as the formal advisory unit on security affairs for the prime minister and the cabinet. "This new bill is a revolution in the field of diplomacy and security," said Hanegbi, who serves as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hanegbi said Wednesday, after the bill was passed by his committee, that lawmakers wanted to grant additional authority to the already-existing body, which currently suffers from a lack of prestige and difficulty in recruiting quality manpower. Until now, the NSC has not - unlike other security-related organizations - enjoyed the status of an official law outlining its mandate. Hanegbi complained that in the past, prime ministers tended not to pay attention to recommendations made by the NSC, leading to situations in which extra-governmental forums and hastily-made decisions served as the basis for government policy. In its new and improved role, the NSC will now be responsible for gathering and processing the recommendations and analyses offered by Israel's many security and defense agencies, and will present them to the prime minister and the cabinet. The advantage of such a body, said Dotan, was that it would enable a more balanced and thought-out level of planning. "Israel has always been somewhat lacking in its ability to make decisions on the basis of long-term goals as opposed to hastily drawing from the hip and shooting," said Hanegbi. "In matters of diplomacy and security, this ends up taking a price in human lives." The new legislation would also allow each prime minister to select their NSC head during their term, to ensure that the official is someone whom the prime minister trusts as an adviser. The assistant director, however, will be appointed for a five-year period, with an option to extend to 10 years to ensure organizational continuity even in the event that the administration changes. "All of the other security bodies involved will have to get used to working with a new, powerful body that is meant to be close to the Prime Minister's Office," said Dotan. Unlike other security apparatuses, however, the NSC has no operational mandate, so its only role is in analysis, synthesis and recommendation. The bill is expected to be put up for vote in the Knesset plenum next week, in the hopes of completing that final stage of legislation before the Knesset leaves for its long summer recess.