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Zion's Dilemmas

How Israel Makes National Security Policy

by Charles D. Freilich

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Israel’s history, its travails and accomplishments, especially in the area of national security, have been a lifelong passion. Having been born in the United States in the post–World War II era, following the Holocaust, I have always felt extraordinarily privileged to have been able to enjoy the magnificent freedoms and opportunities America affords and for which I bear an unabashed reverence. ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

Dramatis Personae

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pp. xv-xviii

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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, ...

Part I. The Setting

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1. Constraints and Players: The External Environment, Proportional Representation System, and National Security Establishment

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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. ...

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2. The Decision-Making Process: How the System Actually Works

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pp. 27-74

The previous chapter presented the three in dependent 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. ...

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Part II. The Case Studies

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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. ...

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3. Camp David I: Making Peace with Egypt, 1977–1979

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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. ...

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4. The Makings of a Young Lion: The Lavi Combat Aircraft, 1980–1987

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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. ...

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5. The Invasion of Lebanon, 1982

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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. ...

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6. Leaving Lebanon: The Unilateral Withdrawal, 2000

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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, ...

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7. Camp David II: The Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, 1999–2000

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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. ...

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8. Disengaging from Gaza, 2005

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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. ...

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9. Back Again: The Second Lebanon War, 2006

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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. ...

Part III. Final Thoughts

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Conclusions and Recommendations

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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, ...

Appendix 1: The INSC Law, 2008

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pp. 259-260

Appendix 2: Recommendations of the Winograd Commission and the Shahak Committee

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pp. 261-266

List of Interviews

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pp. 267-268


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pp. 269-294


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pp. 295-308


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pp. 309-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780801465741
E-ISBN-10: 0801465745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451041
Print-ISBN-10: 0801451043

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs