Doomed by Ego

Ego. That’s the one-word explanation for the top news stories of the week in Israel.

The head of the General Security Service, also known as the Shin Bet, claimed that he and his agency had provided the army with advance information on Hamas plans to launch an operation in Israel — which turned out to be the kidnapping of the three boys, Hy”d — and its intention to start a war this summer.

So long as he confined his criticism to the Cabinet table, where he was rebuffed by the head of military intelligence, he was doing his job. It’s important for the security services to review how they functioned in a military operation like Protective Edge and whether they took into account all of the evidence in reaching fateful decisions.

But when he sent one of his top operatives, the agent in charge of the Southern District, to a popular news program to make the same claims, he crossed a red line. It was a dig at the IDF chief of staff, an attempt to publicly blame him for the war, for the casualties, for the failure to launch a preemptive attack or to at least come up with better plans to, b’ezras Hashem, assure a more conclusive victory.

Since the story broke, the two have held a series of “appeasement” meetings, in the presence of the prime minister and in the IDF chief of staff’s home, and officially have made up. But that hasn’t repaired the damage done to national security by the sorry spectacle of two of Israel’s most responsible, respected defense authorities bickering like children on a playground.

And it has undoubtedly undermined trust and confidence between two organizations, which is so critical to their cooperative efforts. When IDF special forces embark on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines on the basis of information supplied to them by the Shin Bet, it is crucial that they have complete faith in their motives.

Ego also explains why the government isn’t functioning, and why speculation is rife that elections may be right around the corner, just two years after this government was formed.

Take, for example, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. This week she took advantage of her authority as head of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to remove from its agenda a “nationality law” that declares Israel to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. Officially, her reason was concern that such a law would harm Israel’s democratic identity. But the truth is, she was motivated by a desire to flex her political muscle, to embarrass and challenge Netanyahu who, at the Cabinet meeting a few hours earlier, had promised to “move forward on the nationality law.”

If concern for democracy was her overriding concern, why did she vote just last week in favor of a bill to shut down Yisrael Hayom, a right-wing newspaper put out by Netanyahu backer Sheldon Adelson that broke the dominance of Yediot Aharonot? It doesn’t sound very democratic to legislate laws that undermine the free market and limit freedom of the press just because the newspaper reflects right-wing views. Can anyone imagine Congress passing a law to shut down Fox News because it represents a right-wing voice?

But her moves, in the case of Yisrael Hayom and the nationality law, are driven by ego, the need to demonstrate her political independence and put Netanyahu “in his place.” They aren’t rational or consistent and, worst of all, there are not taken out of concern for the best interests of the country.

And Livni isn’t the only one guilty of this. Each of the ministers has a pet project that he wants passed in order to advance his own political career, to gain more support among his natural backers. For Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, it’s the nationality law. So he’s threatened to bring down the government if it isn’t passed.

For Finance Minister Yair Lapid, it’s zero-Value Added Tax for first-time home purchasers — which intentionally discriminates against chareidim — so he’s threatened to quit if it isn’t passed. And Netanyahu is said to be ready to call new elections if the Yisrael Hayom bill is approved in second and third readings in the Knesset.

It would be naïve to think that people who make it to the top of the defense or political establishment do so without strong egos. They have to be driven to succeed. But if ego is allowed to run amok, to the point where national interest is given no consideration, then the government and defense establishment become dysfunctional.

This coalition was doomed from its inception. Other than its hostility towards chareidim, there is no common political ground among its members. The desire for power was the glue that held these disparate parts together. But with time that glue has loosened, and the government appears to be coming apart.

Early elections generally aren’t good for the country. They’re disruptive and expensive,  and they delay important decisions. But there are times when a new government is the far superior alternative. n