Israel has just held its second round of elections in five months, and the political outlook is no clearer. A deadlock could continue for weeks or even months, portending extended political uncertainty. This situation has prompted some questions about Israel’s continued ability to defend itself against challenges from its many regional adversaries.
Israel has a professional military that functions independently from the political realm. To be sure, in Israel’s democracy, elected officials have the power to declare war and to greenlight specific operations. However, readiness, deployment of hardware and troops, and other functions remain the purview of Israel’s military brass.
Moreover, when Israeli lives are at stake, Israel’s other security agencies operate with a clear mandate, no matter who is prime minister or which party leads the political coalition. This includes the Mossad, the Shin Bet, and the police.
Israel maintains the ability to conduct military and intelligence operations during a period of political uncertainty. This was proven over the last five months, when the Israeli Air Force, as was widely reported by foreign press, struck targets in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in response to threats posed by Iranian proxies. Similarly, the Israeli military has responded to provocations by Hamas and other factions in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also disclosed – thanks to efforts by Israeli intelligence – new revelations about the Iranian nuclear program. One can expect to see more of this for as long as the current political deadlock continues.
In other words, all of the elements of Israeli security are designed to operate at full capacity even amidst perceived political uncertainty or during times of transition between governments. Should Israel’s enemies wish to test this, they may even find that the security establishment responds with additional vigor in order to underscore the point. Such a response would likely receive the unanimous support of Israel’s fractured political system.
Indeed, even as bitter political rivalries play out in the Israeli media, Netanyahu invited his top political rival, Benny Gantz, to security briefings with the national security adviser to ensure that the defense and security of Israel remain nonpartisan. It is expected of the candidates to continue to hold such briefings in the event of minor or even major security events in the weeks or months ahead.
Of course, security and military experience plays a significant role in political campaigns. But the security professionals have gone to great lengths to ensure that decisions are made almost independent of politics. This “firewall” ensures that military decisions are made in accordance with Israeli law and according to clear procedures.
To echo Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion, Israel will continue to pursue its security objectives as if there were no political conflict, and it will deal with its political challenges irrespective of security.
Brigadier General (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a visiting professor at the Technion Aerospace Engineering Faculty and a visiting fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). He previously served as the head of Israel’s National Security Council and as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor (acting). Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.