- Israel’s Security Networks: A Theoretical and Comparative Perspective by Gabriel Sheffer and Oren Barak
In the summer of 2013, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Yossi Cohen, the outgoing deputy head of the Mossad, as his new National Security Adviser. According to blogger Barak Ravid, during his long tenure in the clandestine organization, Cohen earned a reputation of a brilliant HUMINT officer “. . .but [he] is not a strategist, a diplomat or an expert in foreign relations’ peaceful means only.”1
Prima facie, this appointment looks odd. In 1999, during his first tenure as Prime Minister, Netanyahu facilitated the formation of Israel’s National Security Council. He envisioned a body that would follow the model of the National Security Council in the US. The core objective of the new civilian council was to assist the Cabinet in shaping policies that pertain to Israel’s national security, independently of the country’s large security apparatus. A decade and a half afterwards, it is clear that Israel’s National Security Council has not been able to meet this objective and its impact on policymaking has been negligible. Anyone who is interested in the causes for this failure will find the definitive answers in Sheffer and Barak’s book (published before the appointment).
Sheffer and Barak, two of the most eminent scholars of civil-military relations in the Middle East, offer a detailed analysis of the origins, traits and fluid configurations of Israel’s most powerful entity — its security network. After they set the stage, they proceed to portray a clear and troubling image of the intertwined relationships between the security network(s) and other sectors of the Israeli society. Using a series of representative case studies, they depict the gradual rise to power of the network since the formative era of the state. They elaborate upon the infiltration of the [End Page 187] network to civilian domains and especially the gradual coopetition of the political system. They breakdown the securitization mechanism of a variety of domestic issues, and the subsequent inescapable consumption of Israel’s foreign policy making by the security network mammoth. They also present the costs of the network’s perpetual expansion, the most significant of which, is the gradual erosion of the civilian control over the policy domain and consequently the weakening of the substantial democratic pillars of the regime.
The critical tone of the book should not be confused with a political agenda. It is an impartial academic masterpiece. The authors apply their theoretical and methodological skills and offer a comprehensive and unblemished description of the complex security environment with which Israel has been coping since its embryonic phase. They do not dismiss the threats or offer quick fixes. Rather, they explore the Israeli case using a broad comparative prism. The comparison to other small states that face similar challenges helps Sheffer and Barak in identifying significant explanatory factors and in highlighting the importance of contextual variables in empowering security sectors and networks.
In addition to its contribution to the understanding of Israel’s takeover by its security sector, the book makes a significant theoretical contribution to the field of civil military relations. By developing the concepts of ‘security sectors’ and ‘security networks’ (8–9; 20–21), the authors encompass the elusive, dynamic and complex nature of defense establishments in the 21st century. Moreover, Sheffer and Barak demonstrate the inadequacy the established (and dated) theories in the field to elucidate the interface between the security and civil sectors in small, non-Western and conflict ridden states. They do so by integrating and developing a theoretical framework that is rooted in Constructivism and draws from the Copenhagen School in international relations.
This book provides scholars of civil-military relations with a powerful set of theoretical and analytical tools that are essential for moving the whole field into the 21st century.
AMI PEDAHZUR is Professor of Government and Israel and Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His recent publications include: The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right...