- Conferences and Seminars
The Process of Israeli Decision Making
According to its own declaration of independence, Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and according to the Israeli Law, it is a parliamentary democracy where its decisions are theoretically made based on regulations that maintain the separation of powers of the various institutions involved in decision making.
Following the 1967 and 1973 war a number of academic studies and books have been written on the decision making process in Israel at the times of crisis. These books examined the details of how decisions have been made in some or all of the crises that faced Israeli decision makers in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The prime concern in these studies was the examination of the rationality of the decision making process in making choices in each crisis that take gains and consequences into consideration seems. These studies also focused on how the dynamics of political positions influenced the decision making process in an attempt to learn from past mistakes and to improve the decision making mechanism especially at the times of crises and under stress.
Another body of literature that emerged on Israeli policy around the same time has been aimed at explaining the nature of all or parts of the Israel’s complex political and social system, often focusing on breaking down the different Israeli institutions or societal groups. However, while this body of literature was mostly concerned with explaining the complexity of the ever changing societal and political mosaic of the Israeli society, it occasionally discussed the implications of domestic influences on foreign policy but rarely engaged the decision making process.
In the last few years, interest in Israeli decision making was again renewed especially following the 2006 war against Lebanon. This interest stemmed from the argument that failures within the Israeli decision making process lead to the war failures. The new academic interest was mostly focused on the failures of the decision making process, identifying imbalances and suggesting remedial measures. Like the initial body of work, this one also focuses on decision making during crises.
It could be argued here that this continuous interest by scholars and researchers in Israeli decision making process, albeit often expressed following major events or crises, is a result of a more chronic concern over the effectiveness of the often-faulty process. This chronic concern has been expressed by many Israelis over the years. Criticism of the decision making process has been sounded by scholars such as Yehuda Ben Meir, who states that at that the summit of Israel’s decision making “it has, in effect, no organized and systematic decision making process at all.”
In addition, many Israelis involved in decision making , including both military and civilian personnel, have expressed similar concerns. For example, Abba Eban, who for many years was Israel’s Foreign Minister and in the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, characterised Israel’s approach to decision making as “Amateurish, based on improvisation, and lacking institutionalisation.”
Similarly, Shlomo Gazit, A former director of military intelligence, a former coordinator of activities in the occupied territories, also described most of the decisions which result from the Israeli decision making process as “irresponsible, haphazard, not thought out and not based on any examination and evaluation of alternatives.” He also adds that “it was only by chance” that good or correct decisions were arrived at. He also states categorically that he cannot think of any single decision that was the result of coherent thinking and evaluation arrived at after thorough study and analysis of all options, possibilities, advantages, disadvantages, and the recommended course of action.
Aharon Yariv, also a former director of Military intelligence and a former cabinet minister, has also described the Israeli decision making process as lacking some high level echelon that “can look at the issues and at the recommendations with an overall comprehensive view.” He wrote of Israel’s process of development of an overall strategy as the “most conspicuous weakness in the Israeli government system.”
Meir Amit, a former director of the Mossad and the Military Intelligence has also stated that “In Israel there is no systematic decision making process in any area;… from economic and social issues to national security there is no orderly process, everything is pulled from a hat… we are in a country that runs itself, instead of being run.”
Likewise, Mordechai Gazit, who served as a director general both of the Prime Minister’s Office and of the Foreign Ministry, has stated that “there is no institutionalisation of the decision making process and it differs from case to case and from individual to individual.” He also stressed that there has never been a clear and formal division of responsibility and authority among the various functionaries in the Prime Minister’s Office, and it was not clear who does what. Eliyahu Ben Elissar, who served as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office during Manachem Begin’s first government, also states flatly that in Israel “there is no such thing as policy planning- not long rage, nor short range, nor medium range”
In light of the above statements and the existing literature on the subject, this study represents an attempt to understand the current Israeli decision making process and to bridge the literature gap by relating domestic factors with decision making and foreign policy. It attempts to explain how elements and forces within the labyrinth of the Israeli society exert influence on the decision making mechanism and on how foreign policy and national security decisions are made. It will focus on political framework backgrounds, domestic and external factors, as well as the main players through which policy is made.
This study would also attempt to avoid focusing its attention solely on decision making in crisis situations as in the case of most earlier studies on the decision making process in Israel. By doing so, it is hoped that a clearer picture of the decision making process can be drawn, and a better identification of elements unique to the Israeli case together with strengths and weaknesses can be made.
But while this study attempts to take holistic approach to the decision making process, major events feature prominently in it simply because crises are often associated with complex decision making mechanisms and high level officials which are the focus of this study.
This study aims to discuss the Israeli decision making process from three different view points. The decision makers and the formal relationship between them, the structural forces and influences inherent in the decision making mechanism, and the external factors that influence the decision making process.
After this introduction, the second chapter of this study examines the first issue. It addresses the theoretical mechanism and framework of the political establishment focusing on the two main players in Israeli decision making, the Cabinet and the Knesset, and the interactions between them as stipulated by Israeli law and in practice. After explaining their structures and the powers given to each of the two by Israeli Basic Laws, it argues that the relationship between the Knesset and the Cabinet is a dynamic relationship whose center of gravity has been recently moving towards the Cabinet.
In the third chapter, this study will discuss the internal forces and processes which alter the formal relationships and balances between the major players and influences the way they operate. These forces include the impact of the use of proportional representation in Israeli general elections, the mechanisms, constraints, and development of coalition politics and how they influence decision making. They also include the different ideologies and programs of political parties. Finally they include the expanding role of the Prime Minister and the impact of the personification of power of Israeli leadership.This study argues that these three structural relationships within the decision making elite have led to a weakened Knesset, and to the failure of the cabinet as a decision making forum . These two factors have led to a culture of improvisation, and to the emergence of alternative forums led by the Prime Minister.
In chapter four, this study expands on a number of external forces, or forces external to the decision making process that are powerful enough to influence it. It discusses the influence of five forces; the military, the advisors, two religious groups, the relationship with the United States, and the relationship with the Jewish Diaspora.
The discussion of the Military influence starts with the security concern and the origins of the military doctrine. After describing the size and structure of the military it then attempts to explain how it managed to become such a major player in Israeli politics. This section argues that in light of the weak civilian leadership and a weak decision making, the military has used many of the tools it has in its disposal to fill the leadership vacuum. Considerable attention was given in this section to the civil military relations in Israel and how the military industrial complex has played a part in that.
The second section of this chapter discusses the role of consultants, advisors, and think tanks as an external player in the decision making process. The role of different Israeli think tanks is discussed including military consultants, civilian consultants and advisors, and independent think tanks. This section also provides a short description of all Israeli think tanks. It argues that advisors play a major role to decision makers not just in making policy but also for domestic political purposes.
The third section of this chapter focuses on the influence of political and interest groups. It focuses primarily on the influence of the two main religious groups in Israel, the Haredim (often referred to in English as the Ultra-orthodox) and the Datim Le’umim (known in English as the religious Zionist). The purpose of this section is not just to demystify the religious population in Israel or to explain the nature of the religious mosaic in Israel,- although these were intended -but to discuss the different roles played by each group and how they shape Israeli policy politically and ideologically.
This chapter would then deal with the nature of Israel’s relationship with the United States and how it influences Israeli decision making process. This section would first discuss the formal relationship between the two countries, surveying the scholarly discourse over the nature of the relationship. It argues that the client state model fails to explain Israeli behaviour towards the United States, and presents an alternative interpretation of Israeli decision making based on the different attitudes of Israeli leaders towards their main benefactors and ally, the United States.
Finally this chapter would discuss the relationship between Israel and the Jewish communities outside of Israel, explaining the differences between the Jewish Community and the Israel Lobby in the United States, and explaining the nature and development of the Israel-Diaspora relations as well as the formal mechanisms of the relationship between the two. This section concludes with an analysis of the influence of this relationship on Israeli decision making and how Israeli decision makers’ perception of the Diaspora influences their decisions towards them.
The fifth chapter represents an attempt to integrate these three viewpoints into a real decision making scenario by presenting a case study of a decision making process. The case study chosen is the decision making process to launch a deep bombing campaign into Egypt at the end of the war of attrition in 1970. The issues discussed in this case study would also be compared to other decision making case studies.
Finally, and by way of conclusion, this study will summarize the main characteristics of the decision making mechanism in the sixth chapter. This chapter attempts to summarize the decision making characteristics in terms of their nature on the pragmatic-ideological scale, and in terms of its main strengths and weaknesses. The strengths and weaknesses identified are summed up in a list format.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 27/5/2010