Weekly Commentary: Israeli Civilians Better On Strategic Security Decisions
Dr. Aaron Lerner 11 November 2022
Recently Defense Minister Gantz basically sneered in disgust at the idea
that a civilian rather than a fellow general might be the next minister of
I wonder if this reflects on how much consideration he has given, over the
years, when he found himself attending a meeting of the security cabinet and
a civilian had the chutzpah to be more than just part of an Amen choir.
But the truth is that Israeli civilians have frequently made better
decisions than the brass on military matters.
Consider a few examples:
Brass opposed building spy satellites:
Ehud Barak and others senior brass strongly opposed Israel building its own
spy satellites - this even though it was already clear that the US could not
be relied upon to fill the gap. Civilian Menachem Begin overruled the brass.
The brass only truly understood why this critical equipment was needed when
the first satellite photograph flashed up on the screen.
Brass opposed acquiring second strike capability:
Ehud Barak took the lead in quashing plans to purchase German subs featuring
launch tubes with an extra large diameter for Jericho missiles. Israel only
received this strategic capability when Germany supplied the first subs for
FREE after German equipment played a key role in the Iraqi missile attacks
against the Jewish State.
Brass opposed opening the Second Lebanon War by destroying Hezbullah's long
The brass wanted to first punish Lebanon by destroying infrastructure but
civilian DM Amir Peretz insisted that the IAF take out the long range
missiles before they began hitting Tel Aviv. This move was essentially the
only correct Israeli decision in the entire war. To hear Peretz describe his
battle with the brass in his own words: http://youtu.be/SM_LMb10qsQ .
Civilian DM Liberman pushed through arming the IDF with an ample supply of
precision ground to ground missiles of various ranges to dramatically
enhance our ability to address many challenges without relying on piloted
platforms. This included top of the line systems that Israel was already
supplying to other armies but the local brass wasn't interested in.
And there are more examples.
In each case civilian "common sense" trumped decades of military training
Would Bezalel Smotrich be a great civilian minister of defense?
He finessed his time in the hesder program to get a law degree when he was
ostensibly studying in yeshiva but this is not a reflection on his skills
When Smotrich became minister of transportation no one expected him to come
close to filling the boots of "Mr. Herod" - Yisrael Katz.
But it turned out that Smotrich was actually better at the job. And he was
better in part because when he sat at a meeting he did not accept
conventional wisdom and asked a lot of great questions no one in the room
had thought about. Thanks to the implementation of his thinking out of box,
the pace of transportation infrastructure construction took off.
I don’t know if he would have the same success as minister of defense.
But I do know that with all the challenges we are facing that it pays to
have a civilian at the helm rather than just a fellow traveller of the Chief
of the General Staff.
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