Zion's Dilemmas

Zion's Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy

Charles D. Freilich
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Zion's Dilemmas
    Book Description:

    In Zion's Dilemmas, a former deputy national security advisor to the State of Israel details the history and, in many cases, the chronic inadequacies in the making of Israeli national security policy. Chuck Freilich identifies profound, ongoing problems that he ascribes to a series of factors: a hostile and highly volatile regional environment, Israel's proportional representation electoral system, and structural peculiarities of the Israeli government and bureaucracy.

    Freilich uses his insider understanding and substantial archival and interview research to describe how Israel has made strategic decisions and to present a first of its kind model of national security decision-making in Israel. He analyzes the major events of the last thirty years, from Camp David I to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, through Camp David II, the Gaza Disengagement Plan of 2000, and the second Lebanon war of 2006.

    In these and other cases he identifies opportunities forgone, failures that resulted from a flawed decision-making process, and the entanglement of Israeli leaders in an inconsistent, highly politicized, and sometimes improvisational planning process. The cabinet is dysfunctional and Israel does not have an effective statutory forum for its decision-making-most of which is thus conducted in informal settings. In many cases policy objectives and options are poorly formulated. For all these problems, however, the Israeli decision-making process does have some strengths, among them the ability to make rapid and flexible responses, generally pragmatic decision-making, effective planning within the defense establishment, and the skills and motivation of those involved. Freilich concludes with cogent and timely recommendations for reform.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6574-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Ever since Israel’s establishment it has confronted an external environment characterized by nearly overwhelming and unremitting hostility, punctuated in recent decades by periods of opportunity and hope. Repeated wars, perpetual hostilities at lower levels, the failed peace processes with the Palestinians and Syria, even the “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, have all reinforced a sense of siege. Indeed, Israel’s national security situation according to former Premier Yitzhak Rabin, is one of “dormant warfare,” which erupts into active conflict every few years.¹ As a result, national security has been at the forefront of Israeli political life for over six de...


    • CHAPTER ONE Constraints and Players: The External Environment, Proportional Representation System, and National Security Establishment
      (pp. 11-26)

      National security decision making in Israel takes place within the context of a uniquely harsh external environment, a proportional representation (PR) electoral system in which the entire country comprises one national constituency, and the structure of the national security establishment. These three factors, the independent variables presented in the Introduction, are set out in detail in the following.

      This chapter is divided into three sections to more fully explore each of these variables. The first presents the basic characteristics of Israel’s external environment, including extreme danger, the extraordinary rate and breadth of change, and an unusual degree of complexity and...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Decision-Making Process: How the System Actually Works
      (pp. 27-74)

      The previous chapter presented the three independent variables held to be the primary determinants of Israeli decision making. This chapter shows how the process is affected by these variables, with a focus on five resulting pathologies, the dependent variables. A summary of the various pathologies and their subdimensions is presented in tabular form at the end of Chapter 3 (Table 2 on p. 99). The chapter concludes with an analysis of the strengths of the Israeli DMP.

      Many observers of Israeli decision making have traditionally held that its most conspicuous characteristic is its essentially reactive nature. Since the external environment...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 75-78)

      Part II presents the seven case studies. Each study is structured around the five pathologies held to be characteristic of Israeli decision making, as described in the preceding chapter. As could be expected, the intensity with which the pathologies were manifested varies by case. Some prove stronger across all of the cases and have greater explanatory power; others, less so, as will seen in the comparative analysis in the final chapter, “Conclusions and Recommendations.”

      The case studies include many of the most momentous decisions Israel has faced in recent decades, focusing primarily on the critical high-risk issues of war and...

    • CHAPTER THREE Camp David I: Making Peace with Egypt, 1977–1979
      (pp. 79-99)

      This case study focuses on the period from the initial diplomatic contacts prior to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in November 1977 and the Camp David Summit in September 1978. Six more months of intensive negotiations would be required before the peace treaty was concluded, but the major principles had been worked out by the summit’s end.

      When President Sadat stunned the world with the announcement of his willingness to visit Israel and begin negotiations, he found an Israel avid for peace but unsure how to respond to this unexpected reversal of the thirty-year-long Arab policy of total...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Makings of a Young Lion: The Lavi Combat Aircraft, 1980–1987
      (pp. 100-121)

      In 1974 Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) stood both at the pinnacle of success and at the edge of an industrial abyss. Following years of development, the Kfir, an upgraded version of the French Mirage fighter, entered production. For a nation as small as Israel, production of a modern combat aircraft was a signal technological achievement. With the Kfir in the production stage, however, IAI no longer had a major, future-oriented project to serve as a focus of organizational drive. The desire to preserve this unique technological capability and to avoid the need to lay off the highly skilled Kfir development...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Invasion of Lebanon, 1982
      (pp. 122-140)

      On June 5, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. Initially planned as a limited operation, both in duration and scope, Israel ultimately remained mired in Lebanon for eighteen years. The invasion commanded resounding public support during its early stages but later became the only war in Israel’s history to generate significant public opposition. This chapter focuses on the DMP during the period prior to the invasion and until shortly after the conquest of Beirut, by which time the primary political and military stages had been completed.

      The invasion of Lebanon was directed against two distinct enemies, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization...

    • CHAPTER SIX Leaving Lebanon: The Unilateral Withdrawal, 2000
      (pp. 141-153)

      On March 6, 2000, the Barak cabinet decided that Israel would withdraw from Lebanon unilaterally, if negotiations then under way with Syria, which was in de facto control of Lebanon, failed to yield an agreed withdrawal by July. In April, at the Geneva Summit, Syrian president Hafez Assad rejected a dramatic Israeli proposal to withdraw from the Golan Heights, presented to him, at Barak’s behest, by President Clinton, and Barak concluded that an agreed withdrawal from Lebanon would not be feasible by the July deadline. The withdrawal was carried out unilaterally on May 23, in a hasty and disorderly fashion,...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Camp David II: The Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, 1999–2000
      (pp. 154-176)

      When Premier Ehud Barak took office in 1999 he inherited a mixed bag. Six years after the Oslo Agreement launched Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was in control of most of the Palestinian population, most of the territory of Gaza, and nearly half of the West Bank. Israel had recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and agreed to negotiations designed to lead to a final agreement within five years. Terrorism, following the horrific spring of 1996, was comparatively low, Israel’s economy was booming, and the severe domestic tensions produced by the peace process,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Disengaging from Gaza, 2005
      (pp. 177-198)

      In December 2003 Premier Sharon took both Israel and the world by surprise with the announcement of his plan for unilateral “disengagement” (withdrawal) from Gaza. Sharon never fully explained this historic decision and his motivations remain a matter of conjecture to this day. As one of the driving forces behind the settlement movement, Sharon’s announcement was a radical departure for him personally and for the Likud Party, indeed, from virtually all previous Israeli strategic thinking, which held that territory and settlements would be ceded only in exchange for peace.

      The idea of withdrawing from Gaza, though not unilaterally, was part...

    • CHAPTER NINE Back Again: The Second Lebanon War, 2006
      (pp. 199-222)

      On July 12, 2006, two IDF soldiers were kidnapped and eight killed in a Hezbollah attack along the Lebanese border. Within hours, the IDF was striking targets in Lebanon, in what would turn out to be Israel’s longest war since the War of Independence.

      There were three primary decision points during the war: the initial decision to respond massively to the Hezbollah attack on the 12th; the decision on the 13th to strike the Dahia neighborhood in Beirut, home to Hezbollah’s headquarters and leadership; and the decision on August 9 to launch a major ground operation, just prior to the...


    • Conclusions and Recommendations
      (pp. 225-258)

      Having looked at each of the seven case studies in detail separately, it is now time to take a broader, comparative look, to tie things together, draw the appropriate conclusions, and make recommendations. This chapter presents a comparative summary of the findings in the seven case studies, along with a discussion of the discrepancies between the posited and actual outcomes, and reviews the book’s key findings. It also reviews past attempts to reform the process, with particular emphasis on the INSC and the reasons it has yet to live up to its intended role, and argues that Israel can no...

  6. APPENDIX 1: The INSC Law, 2008
    (pp. 259-260)
  7. APPENDIX 2: Recommendations of the Winograd Commission and the Shahak Committee
    (pp. 261-266)