NSC, Foreign Ministry praise suggestions

MK Steinitz: Knesset security panel should also be more involved in defense planning.

eiland 248.88   (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
eiland 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Three high-level bodies, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hope to increase their influence on defense planning in the aftermath of Monday's Winograd Report. If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is serious about implementing the Winograd Committee's recommendations, the time may be ripe for creating an effective National Security Council, former NSC head Giora Eiland told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. In the final chapter of the interim report entitled "Institutional Recommendations," the committee wrote, "It is urgently essential to strengthen staff work so that the prime minister will be able to make more educated professional decisions in diplomatic-security affairs. Israel already has such an institution, the National Security Council, but it is vital to rebuild it." What Olmert - and past prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak - failed to do over the last seven years, the beleaguered prime minister may do now, Eiland said. "There is some kind of opportunity now stemming from the fact that since Olmert is trying to say he accepts the report 'as is,' meaning that since it does not explicitly say he must resign, then he accepts it, and also accepts the other element in the report, the institutional recommendations." This would be easy for Olmert to do, since there were no political problems involved in the structural reforms called for by the Winograd Committee, Eiland said. "It would be very easy for Olmert to embrace the recommendations and promote them enthusiastically because this way he could ostensibly explain why he had to stay at his post and why it would be wrong for him to leave." On the other hand, Olmert had an opportunity to rebuild the National Security Council at the beginning of 2006, when he started filling in for the ailing Sharon. At the time, Eiland was about to leave his post as head of the council because it had been so marginalized. Eiland told the Post that when Olmert became acting prime minister, he thought there might be an opportunity to turn things around. "Usually, the problem with organizational bodies is not that they lack people responsible for a certain issue," Eiland said. "The problem is usually the opposite. There are too many individuals or bodies that are responsible and then things are not done properly. I came to Olmert and told him that he could eliminate the NSC, but then he must also eliminate the military attach , the political adviser and the prime minister's chief of staff, in order to build something new that would carry out 100 percent of the political-security work [for the prime minister and the government.] "I came with this proposal to Olmert, but he wasn't prepared to accept it and, in fact, did something that was in my opinion the opposite of the right thing. At that point, we parted ways." Also Tuesday, senior Foreign Ministry officials said they were pleased with the Winograd Report's recommendation for the "incorporation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in security decisions with political and diplomatic aspects." Numerous foreign ministry director-generals, including the previous director-general Ron Prosor and his predecessor, Yoram Biran, have publicly called in recent years for a greater role for Foreign Ministry officials around the decision-making table, arguing that the IDF and the security establishment are too dominant. This led to some demoralization among diplomats, and the feeling that their opinions were not being taken into consideration at the highest levels. One senior ministry source said Tuesday that Foreign Ministry employees felt "energized" by Winograd's call to incorporate it to a greater degree in the decision making process. At the same time, members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, one of the few major bodies to escape any criticism from the Winograd Committee, criticized the government for not using its expertise when planning the Second Lebanon War. "Sharon was the exact opposite of Olmert, he used the information that he got from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on a number of issues, even the most sensitive," said MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who headed the committee under the previous government. "Olmert did not follow Sharon's tradition of meeting with the committee privately and listening to our advice on certain issues." During his time as prime minister, Olmert has met with the panel about half as often as Sharon did. "The committee has the power and has the knowledge to offer real and important advice and insight," said Steinitz. "It all depends on the assertiveness of the committee." According to one MK from a right-wing religious party, the panel's current chairman, MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima), is not as aggressive as his predecessors. "There have been a lot of complaints about Hanegbi's use of the committee... they really started when Hanegbi was abroad during the war and didn't call the committee during the early weeks of the war," said the MK. Hanegbi was not available for comment, but a panel official said he was dedicated to serving the interests of the committee.