Will the National Security Council fulfill their duty?

The head of the National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, must feel the heat of a difficult dilemma these days. The politician in him is surely pushing to defend the legal reform. On the other hand, the professional response required by someone in his position necessitates a systematic analysis of the proposed reform’s strategic implications. If he decides to do so, here is, for his consideration, a memorandum of guidance to the staff that reports to him.

Dear Colleagues, According to the language of the National Security Council Law (2008), we are entrusted as the government’s staff forum in matters of security and foreign affairs. The law, which as a member of the Knesset I labored to strengthen in scope, requires that we “propose to the prime minister an agenda and topics for discussion by the cabinet.”

The protest against the reform. Photo: Gideon Markovich, TPS

In this spirit, and against the background of the accumulated evidence from both open and confidential sources, I intend to propose to the prime minister that in the coming days, he convene his cabinet to discuss the strategic costs that may be incurred by the implementation of the legal reform now on the table.

I will, therefore, ask you to summon for urgent consultation senior representatives of the ministries and agencies concerned with the issue (they are obligated to appear before you under the law), and submit to me as soon as possible an integrative report that reviews the full range of interests that may be impacted.

There are many questions to be considered:

Security: In view of US apprehensions about the intended legal reform, and as the US is the only power we can rely upon, what is the probability of a crisis in our relations with Washington, and how might our “special relationship” be damaged? Will the erosion of sympathy for Israel further permeate the halls of Congress and other relevant agencies and sectors?

Could US willingness to continue the support it currently provides be harmed: annual security assistance, maintaining the IDF’s qualitative military edge, intelligence, the veto power it wields on the UN Security Council, the shield it provides in hostile international institutions, advancement of Israeli interests in the Arab world, and much more.

Is it possible that we will have difficulty securing US cooperation in our fight against Iran’s regional aggression and its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons? Could a cooling of relations with Washington encourage Russia to limit Israeli Air Force activities in Syrian skies?

What is the expected effect of weakening relations with Washington on Israeli deterrence? Could a degraded deterrence image tempt Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups to launch violent attacks against us? Could it push the Palestinians to intensify their diplomatic offensive (declaring Israel as an apartheid state, for example)? Are we likely to experience a deterioration in relations between Jews and Arabs inside the Green Line?

Economy: How serious is the risk of downgrading Israel’s credit rating and what would the consequences be? Is there any truth in the warnings about the “flight” of foreign investors from Israel spurred by their fear of a compromised Israeli legal system? To what extent do they believe that Israel is indeed “shedding its democratic norms”?

Is there a danger to Israel’s financial stability and its international trade? How plausible is it that Israeli entrepreneurs, especially in the hi-tech sector, will decide to move their businesses abroad? Is Israel’s tourism industry likely to be affected? Could Europe deploy economic and cultural pressure: boycotts, divestments, sanctions, freezing cooperation in various fields? Will delegitimization fervor against Israel increase?

International status: Is significant damage to Israel’s image expected and what would the short- and long-term ramifications be? Is there an increased risk of anti-Israeli moves at the International Court of Justice in the Hague and other international institutions?

The Jewish world: Does the antagonism of many in the Jewish world toward the legal reform, and their perception that it is a “change in a non-democratic direction,” indicate that a severe crack in Jewish solidarity can be expected?

Will Israel’s position as a focus of pride and identification for Diaspora Jews plummet? And as a consequence, will we find it difficult to obtain Jewish political and financial support in a time of dire need? Could deepening criticism of Israel encourage a further increase in antisemitic phenomena?

The head of the National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi. Photo by TPS

Dear colleagues, I am aware of the political sensitivities of my directive, but our professional duty does not allow us to ignore the threats we are facing. I am not asking that you pass judgment on the content of the legal reform, but rather to evaluate its possible implications for Israel’s strategic resilience. We must not forget that the National Security Council was established as part of the lessons drawn from the failures of the Yom Kippur War. It is our highest duty to alert the government ahead of time of any possible harm to Israel’s national interest.

On the National Security Council’s website, we proudly state our values: “Council employees will act in a dignified, professional and systematic manner, and show integrity, initiative and responsibility.” This is a moment of truth when our loyalty to those values will be tested.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Head of the National Security Council (not yet signed).

First published by The Jerusalem Post.