Israel Studies Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2003)
was often referred to as the voice of
On his return to
My interview with Abba Eban took place
in the Dorchester Hotel in
Q. If we define Ben-Gurionism as a search for reconciliation through the application of force, and Sharettism as a search for reconciliation through the quest for moderate solutions, would you see yourself consciously as a follower of the Sharett line and an opponent of the Ben-Gurionist line?
A. No, well first
of all, I don’t accept the definitions, because Sharett was a very great
believer in the necessity for strength as the foundation of our diplomacy. It
was he who laid emphasis on the establishment of the Brigade Group and on the
fortified army. On the other hand, Ben-Gurion’s rhetoric of contempt for world
opinion did not reflect his real view. He had an almost reverent belief in the
And I myself am somewhat intermediate between them. I very much followed Sharett’s international line, but I found him excessive in his deference to what he called world opinion, or rather static and unwilling to accept that opinion could be changed. He didn’t believe that we could gain entry into the United Nations in 1949, and he left me to run that unaided. So I would say the distance between them is very small and I would be in the middle, somewhere nearer to Ben-Gurion than to Sharett.
Q. Is there a fundamental similarity between the struggle between the activists and the non-activists in the period preceding the Suez War and the debate that went on in the Israeli government after 1967, or were the issues different?
A. The discussion before ’56 was on the question of methodology by which the military establishment believed it could get a tranquil frontier by a very punitive approach of launching reprisals against the neighboring states. This was the view especially when General Dayan became influential in the High Command. Ben-Gurion tended to yield to this. Even Sharett, when he became Prime Minister, very rarely withheld his approval of an act of reprisal. Both Sharett and I reached the conclusion that this was becoming sterile; not that it lacked justification, but that it did not achieve results on the ground commensurate with the political disadvantages that we suffered throughout the world. In fact, Dayan and Ben-Gurion also felt that these sporadic reprisals were becoming useless and that is what drove them toward the idea of a more massive attempt to inflict a defeat on the Egyptian army.
In the middle of it, there was the Lavon episode, in which he unexpectedly became much more extreme in his support of punitive action than any of his predecessors — perhaps than any of his successors. The historian, of course, would have to analyze what the result would have been if Israel had not undertaken these reprisals, and he might reach the conclusion that the whole of Israeli life would have been completely disrupted, so that, even if the reprisals did not achieve their total result, they probably achieved more than the absence of reprisal would have done.
Q. After 1967, did you stand for a fundamentally different policy than the official government policy, or were the differences simply those of emphasis?
after 1967, the official policy was always a policy of territorial compromise.
The official formulations were much closer to the dove-ish line than to the
hawkish line. What happened was, however, that the moderate formulations of
official policy ceased to be credible, because the voices that carried loudest
— especially Mr. Dayan’s voice — paid not the slightest attention to the
official formulation of policy. That is the paradox; the period begins after
’67 with the feeling that a great revolution had taken place through the war,
that we ought to be able to change our history. It could be changed in one of
two ways — by changing the map, or by changing the relationships between the
Israeli and Arab states. The first impulse was to change the relationships, and
that is why, in June and July, we made far-reaching proposals to
the same time, we found ways of communicating to
these three came together so that, by the time the end of 1968 was reached, the
belief in Israel in the possibility of peace was much less and the concept of
compromise was developed — namely, maintaining the full territorial status quo
as an incentive to the Arabs to change their attitude on peace. No withdrawal
without peace. Some of us also understood the corollary, no peace without
withdrawal. The Security Council resolution Number 242 in general supported the
Arabs on territory and supported
’69, I think the death of Eshkol had the effect of strengthening Dayan’s
position in the Cabinet. He could rely much more uncritically than before on
majority support. Also the growth of a euphoric atmosphere took place in which
the majority really lost its power. There was one minister who said to me that
a cabinet majority that does not include Dayan is not a majority at all, and,
what with the worshipful attitude of the press, we find that his ideas gained
ground and he became increasingly skeptical of any possibility of peace, at
least in the central sector. To some extent, he was willing for withdrawals in
the Golan and near the
1973, the result of the deadlock, and the failure of the Jarring Mission, the
strong support given by the Nixon/Kissinger administration to an attritional
policy, all created a climate of exuberant self-confidence that began to border
on fantasy.1 In
February 1973, I made a speech at
Q. If you had been free from all these domestic political constraint, what in essence would have been your policy toward the Arabs?
there is really no such thing as foreign policy free of domestic constraints,
and foreign policy that does not take domestic politics into account is
frivolous. Here I support the view that Professor Kissinger takes in his book
on Castlereagh and Metternich, A World Restored. The essence is to find
a balance between international necessity and domestic consensus. If you ask in
what sense the domestic consensus inhibits our policy, I would say this — it
was too ready to accept the negative answers in ’67 as final. It did not allow
us to publicly promulgate the idea of a compromise west of the
I had been free from constraints, we would have avoided the rhetoric of
arrogance; we would have been more constant in making peace proposals, even
with a tactical aim in view; we would have been a little less strictly pragmatic.
Some people said, what is the use of making proposals that you know the Arabs
will not accept? Whereas my orientation would have been, not to ask whether the
Arabs would accept something, but whether the enunciation of something would
diplomatic activity that is not leading anywhere is better than no diplomatic
activity at all. Activity itself gives Arab moderates an alibi for avoiding the
military option. It is significant that Sadat’s decision to make war only came
when he despaired of any diplomatic activity. By the early summer of ’73, the
Jarring Mission was paralyzed, the four powers had ceased to meet, and then the
final blow in June — when the Nixon/Brezhnev communiquŽ really dismissed the
Middle East with a few ritual comments, indicating that the two powers also did
not really intend to do anything about the Middle East, together with Nixon’s
statement that not a single Israeli soldier should move from the cease-fire lines
except in a framework of a contractual peace settlement. All of this led to the
was the image of the Arabs that informed
will get a picture of my feeling if you read my speech of February 1973 at
So there were varying attitudes in the Cabinet in appraising the Arab response, with Mrs. Meir believing that it was hopeless, even though it might be necessary to make tactical movements some times. Others of us believed that the effect of four, five, six years of not changing the situation by force would bring some Arabs around to the idea that they might get most of their territory back by peace.
Q. What was your conception of the UN and its role in bringing about the settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute after 1967?
The Soviets vetoed anything the Arabs didn’t like, and the Arabs and Communists together had a veto power in the General Assembly. Jarring was an ineffectual representative of the United Nations. In the personal sense, he missed many opportunities, especially in 1971, when he diagnosed as a rejection of his proposals answers that were not really so very far apart. I refer to February 1971.2
on the whole, it was obvious that the United Nations really didn’t possess a
mediatory capacity because
Q. Let’s move on to the agencies involved in the making of Israeli foreign policy, starting with the Foreign Office. Why was the influence of the Foreign Office so limited in the making of national policy?
A. I don’t think that it was. The fact that something is written in the press all the time doesn’t make it true. The Foreign Office was predominant in making the official policy, but the Defense Ministry took no notice of official policy or of Cabinet consensus, or of the formulas that were adopted. In general, I would say that the formulations of Israeli policy were almost ninety percent Foreign Office-oriented — the concept of territorial compromise, territorial concession, in return for peace; acceptance of 242; acceptance of withdrawal. There is one statement made by a Rafi3 spokesman saying that the Foreign Office exercised the dictatorship, and I personally exercised dictatorship over foreign policy, and he proved that everything that we asked for — the acceptance of the word “withdrawal,” the acceptance of 242, the acceptance of the Jarring Mission — these were all secured. But I think that, in the formulation and adoption of official policies, the Foreign Office was almost unchallenged.
The paradox was that, in the Cabinet itself, its polices were not regarded as having any weight for some Cabinet Ministers — especially for the one voice that reverberated throughout the world. So you could win a ninety-nine percent victory in the Cabinet, but it would not affect the defense policy or the way in which Dayan articulated those policies.
Q. Would you accept the criticism that the Foreign Office was more concerned with diplomatic techniques than with the formulation of an overall strategy?
had zero interest in diplomatic techniques. I don’t remember any party showing
the slightest interest in diplomatic technique at all. It was concerned with
the formulation and defense of our policy, but once the formulation stage was
reached, of course, it was up to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister to carry
out the formulation of the policy. But apart from any occasional visit to the
Q. What was the role of the research department in the Foreign Office? I gather that it did very good work, and that its papers were of high quality, but that it was weak in the field of presentation to the Government. Was this the case?
A. Not in presentation to the Government, but, if the Government means the Cabinet, I would say that the Cabinet didn’t read any papers at all — not those that came from Aman [Military Intelligence] or from the Foreign Office. There was a very intuitive response to events. I think the Foreign Office papers were good — some of the military intelligence papers were good. There was no real difference between the two groups on that level, except that, toward 1973, military intelligence developed the idea that the Arabs had despaired of making war because they were impressed by our strength and that, if only we held our nerve, we could hold on. The Foreign Office papers tended to draw more attention to the nuances of the variations happening within the Arab world. The Foreign Office papers relied a great deal upon opinion and the press in the Arab world. Military intelligence was more concerned with official, and especially military, statements by Arab leaders; but, although the Cabinet was served up with this material — for it was available — there is not much evidence of it having had much effect.
Q. I asked the army spokesman why Aman had gained the lead over the Foreign Office in presenting evaluations to the Government, and his reply was that, after 1967, events began to move fast in the Middle East, particularly with super-power intervention, and that the Foreign Office simply did not keep up with the pace of events. Is this an explanation you would accept?
It goes deeper than that. The fact is that, in relation to enemy countries, the
Foreign Office had no direct responsibility at all. In other words, Aman
and the Mossad were formally responsible for those spheres. They had
enormous machines, tremendous budgets, and vast numbers of people. The Foreign
Ministry did not have any constitutional responsibility for discussing matters
that depended on clandestine information, and the work of our research
department was, in a sense, voluntary self-assertion. It was not even
solicited. It was not asked for. The division of responsibility was the Foreign
Ministry for countries with whom we had relations — the hundred countries with
whom we had diplomatic relations. Arab affairs, affairs in countries with which
we had no relations, were a matter for intelligence-gathering, and therefore
fell under Aman and the Mossad. But there was no equality of
resources, and once, when it was considered whether we should increase the
effort of the Foreign Ministry Research Division, the answer was,
immediately “no” — that the military
intelligence had done very well in ’67, which, incidentally, is not true. There
was an intelligence failure before the ’67 war as well — it was concealed by
the military success. But on the 1st of May, the messages on my desk were that
there would be no war for the next five years. The real point is that, what
interested us about the Arab world — what interested
Q. My impression is that all the planning efforts in the Foreign Ministry tended to fizzle out. What was your own attitude toward planning?
I don’t know what the word means, but I don’t think planning has very much
place in a Foreign Ministry at all, because you can only plan that over which
you have control. You can plan your educational policy. You know your budgets;
you know your resources. Planning indicates a degree of sovereignty. In fact, I
don’t know of any foreign office in which the planning department has amounted
to very much. I discussed this with the US State Department planners. How can
you plan policy for
Q. I have heard it said that, in the policy discussions with the senior officials of the Foreign Office you tended not so much to draw ideas out of them, but to use them as sounding boards for you own ideas. Is this a fair comment?
A. It may be their impression. I don’t think it is a fair comment. I may not have felt that they added very much. The fact is that I had more experience than most of them had, which is not usual between ministers and civil servants. Usually civil servants have had a longer tenure than the minister, who is a guest who passes in the night. But there were some (I don’t want to mention names) who certainly had a very strong effect on my own presentations to the Cabinet.
Q. A related point is that you relied rather heavily on the Director General, Gideon Rafael, and didn’t pay as much attention as you might have done to the other advisors.
I think he had special skills and perceptions over the other advisors, also
special industry, but anyone who wrote or said something of interest would
certainly have had it well-received. Mordechai Gazit had quite a strong influence,
although his dove-ishness tended to be so militantly excessive that it was very
hard to get the Cabinet to look at it with favor. Some of the ambassadors had
very great weight, of course —
Q. How did you react to persistent efforts to encroach on your own territory and to infringe the prerogatives of the Foreign Ministry by people like Moshe Dayan?
A. First of all, I don’t think there was much encroachment. I think that you can’t deny that foreign policy is not a specialized departmental affair. I think it is absurd to regard it in that light. In the situation of war and peace, the prime minister and the defense minister must be concerned with international relations. I wouldn’t have objected at all to this activity if it were within the same consensus. The jurisdictional problems that afflicted many of my officials seemed to me to be very trivial indeed. I have no interest in them at all. I don’t believe we should have departmental patriotisms. My objection is not that Dayan spoke to people, but that he didn’t say the right things. If he had said the right things, I would have done everything to make him more active. It was not, therefore, a jurisdictional problem of other people dealing with foreign policy. It is the fact that they were not dealing with it in a consonant or harmonious way, creating dissidence in which his views would have no relationship whatever to the Cabinet consensus, which we very carefully formulated.
the Cabinet consensus was dominated by the Foreign Office formulations. What is
the use of them when the Cabinet consensus itself was transcended or violated
by Dayan, even sometimes by Israel Galili, or when a different emphasis was
given to them than that which was inherent in their texts? So here we had
moderate formulations of policies and extremely militant misinterpretations of
them. During Eshkol’s tenure, he used to be capable of repudiating some of
Dayan’s words. Later on, Mrs. Meir would sometimes say that what Dayan had
uttered had not been cleared with her. She said that many times. She would say
that she had objected to the religious party’s policy for annexing the
The fact is that the Cabinet system broke down at the point at which its disciplines were rejected by an influential member whose voice resounded throughout the world, so that, when ambassadors came and said our policy is the following, they can have territory if they want peace, they would be told “Yes, but that isn’t what Mr. Dayan says, and it’s been on the television and we understand that this voice is the voice that also is linked to the hand that commands the military establishment.” That was the difficulty that arose throughout the period, much more after Eshkol’s death than before.
Mrs. Meir go a bit far in almost attempting to set up a parallel foreign
service, by-passing the established ministry, as manifested, for example, by
the fact that she allowed Itzhak Rabin to report directly to her when he was
didn‘t ask him to report to her — she didn‘t direct him to report directly to
her, and he didn‘t report directly to her — that is a ridiculous myth. He
reported to her and to me, and there was never any problem. The tension that
arose never had anything to do with the reporting procedure. No encroachment,
no intervention. I think Mrs. Meir did the minimum that a prime minister must
do in foreign policy, not the maximum. I am afraid that, if I were Prime
Minister, I would interfere much more. What is a prime minister’s job? It is to
take an interest in those matters on which the fate of the government or the
coalition might depend. And there were some sectors, especially relating to the
arms problem and our relations to the
this subordination of foreign policy to defense policy simply imposed by the
objective facts of
a country’s major foreign policy preoccupation is not to be wiped off the face
of the earth, then of course security becomes a very important factor. I would
say a foreign policy that subordinated security to something else would be very
hard to understand. So that the large role of security considerations was
important. What was the Foreign Office meant to do? It was meant to strengthen
This was reflected in its almost monopolistic control of the administered territories. There was once a committee. During Eshkol’s period, there was a ministerial committee that supervised these matters. This was abolished, which meant that the Defense Ministry was really the sole government for all the areas under military control. It had the biggest budget, and the media were much more open to Dayan’s voice than to any other. There is therefore a certain element of hypocrisy in the media writing about a Mechdal [Breakdown] after the ’73 War. If you look at the people who wrote about that afterwards, they nearly all were part of the majority chorus of exuberant self-confidence before the war. In fact the media helped to create the Mechdal by an uncritical acceptance of the militant view, which they were able to forget after 1973.
But security had this predominance, the biggest budget, the most powerful patronage, the easiest access to the media, the charismatic potential, and also, I should say, that — although this might arise with any prime minister — in a discussion between civilians and soldiers, Mrs. Meir tended to be very impressed by the soldiers. This in fact is what brought about the debacle in October 1973. The uniformed reporter had enormous weight because, as a final resort, if anything went wrong, national disaster could only happen on the military front; so that there was a tendency for an alignment between the prime minister and the defense establishment whenever there was some conflict about what to do. The feeling was that one could never go wrong by being a little too cautious and too pessimistic, but one might go wrong by being a little too optimistic.
Q. Let’s turn to the role of the prime minister. First, what is your appraisal of Levi Eshkol as a policy-maker — what were his strengths and weaknesses?
A. I think he was the best of all our prime ministers because he had a capacity for balancing his views. He had a pluralistic view of the cabinet system. He did not disappear in charismatic fantasies, and he was capable of taking a different view in relationship to anybody, including the defense establishment; and that is why I think it is not an accident that we had nothing but success and victory during his tenure. Later on, the Defense Ministry and its incumbent minister tended to grow in influence and to dwarf the rest of the Cabinet. This might have been for reasons other than the relations with the prime minister, but it is a fact that, although in the domestic political context Mrs. Meir was aligned against Dayan, in security matters she was close to him. Later it became almost predictable that his view would be supported by her.
Q. Is it fair to say of Eshkol that he was very much a mediator and arbitrator, rather than an initiator who provided leadership in foreign policy and in defense?
it is not a fair criticism, because I think arbitration is the essence of the
prime ministerial function. But he also offered strong leadership, as, for
example, when we made our peace approaches in 1967 when we initiated the
Q. I read that Eshkol’s intimate forum for consultations on foreign policy and defense consisted of yourself, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yigael Yadin, and Ya’acov Herzog. Is this accurate?
A. No, Yadin disappeared completely a few months after the war. Absolutely completely. There were only three or four weeks of participation, so he could not possibly be in that gallery. One would have to add Israel Galili. Eshkol also made a great effort to involve ministers like Moshe Haim Shapira because it was very important for us to have a moderate national religious party to offset the Likud party. But he even showed a capacity to associate with Menachem Begin and others, so that there was this smallish group, excluding Yadin. But there were two or three ministers, including Galili and Shapira, who were nearly always involved in our consultations. There was also a committee on security affairs, which was important. This was abolished and has not been reinstated in spite of the Agranat Commission’s report.4 The two prime ministers who succeeded Eshkol were not able to find a formal platform smaller than the Cabinet as a whole, and therefore they have been thrown back on informal consultation.
Q. How smooth and effective was your own working relationship with Eshkol?
A. It was very smooth and very intimate. There was no inhibition. In fact, he was accessible. And the other ministers had the hope that he could be persuaded to listen to their views. Mrs. Meir had stronger preconceived ideas, and sometimes one felt that it was very unlikely that one could change her view unless one also got support from Dayan. But in general there was a feeling that, in a conflict between the Defense and Foreign Ministries, Defense would get the final word because of her feeling that a diplomatic setback could not be fatal, whereas a military setback might be fatal.
Q. Can you elaborate on this, on Mrs. Meir’s strength and weaknesses as a policy-maker in general?
strength lay in the fact that she could always carry the domestic consensus,
and there was no risk that we would be unable to take the Knesset and the
Cabinet with us. I am speaking in the light of subsequent events, when our
policy was inhibited by the doubt of whether the Cabinet could carry a majority
with it. Another strength was the closeness of her contacts with the President
The weakness was the tendency to be apocalyptic about the Arab world — not to believe in the possibility of a change —and also not to believe much in the value of semantic or tactical concessions. My own feeling was that, even if you were pessimistic about the Arab response, it was worth making tactical and semantic concessions — not to get the Arabs to support us, but in order to get a broader international support. Mrs. Meir was reluctant. For example, if one saw no purpose in Jarring’s wanderings, she had no compunction in cutting him off; whereas I felt that even if there were no purpose in his wanderings, they did fill a certain vacuum and were better than no diplomatic activity at all.
other weakness, which became evident during the Yom Kippur War (and this was
the major one), was an uncritical approach to the advice of the Defense
Establishment. This leads to the question: What does
Mrs. Meir’s rise to power mark a fundamental change in
A. Not in the official formulation of policy, which continued to be balanced and moderate. Our official formulations of policy did not cause any trouble for us. It was the deviation from them that caused us problems. Yet, I would say, being more skeptical about the value of exploring Arab attitudes, she tended not to explore them as intensively as did Eshkol. Also, she didn’t believe in the value of verbal semantic tactical concession and was much more influenced by people like Galili and Dayan. In other words, if there was a question of formulation of policy, there was usually a pull. What was convenient in international terms was usually inconvenient in domestic terms, and she tended to put her ear closer to the domestic consensus than to what was needed internationally. To put it differently, she would prefer to defy foreign governments on behalf of domestic opinion than to defy domestic opinion on behalf of some international interest.
Q. Decision-making in the Cabinet has been widely criticized for not being based on orderly staff work, on full information, on a clear definition of the various options. Is this a justified criticism?
is. I think that is one of the weaknesses of the Cabinet office in general.
Ministers are given a minimal documentation. The habits of intuition and
improvisation are very ingrained. Perhaps
remember, for example, when the Cabinet was about to approve the raid on Beirut
was against the raid, but I suggested as a delaying effort that we should
postpone it for twenty-four hours, during which we and any other ministry that
wanted to should present a list of the consequences, the pros and cons. What
would happen militarily, what would happen regionally, what would happen
internationally? I remember discussing what would happen to our relations with
Q. Didn’t this way of conducting affairs to some extent doom the government to reacting to events rather than initiating, because there was no forward-looking approach?
A. I wouldn’t say there was no forward-looking approach. Ideas could be thrown out in Cabinet meetings; but in general I would say that the results of the 1967 War were to create a defensive psychology in two ways — militarily, and therefore politically. We were in possession of the field. We held the cards. The onus was upon the Arabs to change it. The strategy was, “Here we are. We have something that you want very much. Come and get it! And if you come and get it, we will offer you inducements. If you don’t come to us, then we can sit here indefinitely.” There was a feeling that the status quo, although not ideal, was by no means intolerable, and therefore it was up to the Arabs, who had most to gain, to take the initiative or to get people to take the initiative on their behalf.
This had its expression in the military field as well. Since they did not have anything that we wanted to capture, but rather had things we were willing to give back, we entrenched ourselves behind the Bar-Lev line and said that at least we can afford the luxury of a non-preemptive strategy. We can sit here, and if they attack, we can respond. A preemptive strategy is the military side of an initiating foreign policy, but in both cases it was felt that we were in possession of the field; we have the assets, and this ought to induce in the Arabs a desire to change their views.
we shouldn’t underestimate the weakening effect of Arab policy on the moderates
Q. Which body had the responsibility for coordinating the military and political aspects of Israeli policy into an overall strategy of national security?
A. Well, that is the weakness to which I referred when I said that, apart from the Cabinet itself, there was no intermediate body for the analysis of options. Nothing like the National Security Council. The nearest approach was what one would call the kitchen; namely, the habit of almost daily consultation between the prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, deputy prime minister, Israel Galili, and one or two others. That was a very useful forum for ministerial coordination, but it did tend to exclude the civil service level. The kitchen was a Cabinet kitchen, whereas a National Security Council gives very great weight to specialized advice. I think that under the Cabinet kitchen system, which has prevailed under all our prime ministers, the role of the permanent official in the Israeli government is a very difficult one to maintain. So long as our prime ministers have been, and still are, rather hostile to institutionalized processes of consultation, this is at the base of some of our present tensions as well.
Because the Cabinet is a weak technical body, the Prime Minister’s Office is also very slender, consisting of only a director general and one or two people. It is nothing like a prime minister’s office in other countries. What was asked at the beginning about the prime minister building a separate civil service — the opposite is true. The Prime Minister’s Office is not a department at all. It is a minister with two or three people. Under those conditions, the absence of a permanent body for confrontation between conflicting views has been marked, except insofar as the Cabinet Committee on Security actually played that role. I think that toward the end, it was playing that role — I forget whether we were even meeting officially, but I do remember meetings of five or six or seven ministers, with the intelligence and military chiefs becoming more and more prominent as the period went on. Toward the end, we would very rarely have a week without one or two meetings at that level. It was not institutionalized — there was something almost subterranean about it. We felt guilty toward the other fifteen ministers who were not there.
I think that the Agranat Commission exaggerated the effect of procedural
elements in what went wrong in October 1973. It was much more the psychology of
national confidence developed through the defense minister, through the press,
through a very right-wing press, with the support of the Arabs. There was an
objective alliance between the Israeli hawks and the Arabs in the sense that
the Arabs did everything that would fortify the appraisals of the militant view
Q. Wouldn’t an alternative channel for evaluations have been a vital safeguard against this national euphoria and overconfidence? Wasn’t one of the weaknesses of the Cabinet that it allowed itself to become dependent on one channel of evaluation?
A. Yes, that is the case. I think a pluralism of intelligence would have been useful. Whether it would have led to a pluralism of appraisals, I don’t know. Sometimes there was a refusal even to look at military appraisals that descended from the establishment. There was the celebrated case of Lieutenant Siman-Tov’s appraisal on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. That came from within the Aman establishment, but it was not in accordance with official doctrine, and therefore never reached higher levels.
Q. Was there an increase in the influence of the military after 1967, and if so, why?
A. An enormous increase. The spectacular results of their operations gave them tremendous weight. They lost their anonymity; they became known, they became charismatic; albums, medals. It was they who fixed the normative values of Israeli society.
Q. When exactly did the practice begin of inviting senior generals to report to the Cabinet directly, and what were the implications of this?
A. Mr. Ben-Gurion never invited a general to attend a Cabinet meeting. It was part of his views on the separation of functions. Later on, during Eshkol’s tenure, the Chiefs-of-Staff used to report. One reason was that Eshkol, being both the prime minister and the defense minister, could not have the same intimate knowledge of the Defense Ministry as a separate minister would have had, and therefore the Chief-of-Staff used to attend. Then there was the habit to hear about Arab preparations, so Rosh Aman [Director of Military Intelligence] used to be invited.
When Dayan became Defense Minister, one would have thought that he would have made do with his own reporting. However, he, more than any of the other defense ministers invited the Chiefs-of-Staff to report to the Cabinet, sometimes even while he dissented from their views. I think he wanted to share responsibility for operations, but by the end of Eshkol’s period, there would be three or four military officers at each Cabinet meeting in addition to the Defense Minister.
Q. Did the heightened self-confidence of the high command strengthen the position of the hard-line ministers in the Cabinet?
certainly, especially because, as I have said already, they had evidence for
their confidence. They wanted to go into
Q. Can one go as far as to say that the General Staff was not only more than a neutral agency executing government policy, but that it became a pressure group pushing for particular policies in the conflict?
A. Yes, it had a doctrine that it was unwilling to examine critically. The Agranat Commission revealed this. Having achieved a certain appraisal, the General Staff was reluctant, even as late as the 4th or 5th of October to revise it. It refused to acknowledge that it might have been wrong. It refused to acknowledge that the Arab troop concentrations might mean war because to have acknowledged that would have been to discredit its previous appraisals, and, of course, when it came to making proposals for military counteractions, its views were predominant. Now, since it was expected that the military would propose military action, when the military said there was no need to do anything, this was all the more impressive — and why should anybody be “more Catholic than the Pope”? If the military establishment did not think you had to have mobilization, it seemed absurd for civilian ministers to be more exacting than they were.
the High Command decisive in shaping
On one hand, it was Dayan’s proposal that we should attempt to withdraw from
Q. Did the military also gain in influence because the ministers were divided among themselves?
A. The real reason was that the material under discussion was military material. The question was: How do we appraise the order of battle on the other side? What is the military intention of the enemy, and what do we do in response? These questions required a certain technical jargon and a certain technical knowledge — specialized knowledge — in which the khaki uniform and the stars on the shoulder had a very large effect. Many thought it would be irresponsible to overrule the military in favor of caution.
Q. Finally, limited military action in the form of reprisal raids is a vital instrument of Israeli statecraft in dealing with the Arabs. Moshe Sharett’s diaries are full of instances of his being kept in the dark. What was your experience as Foreign Minister? Were you regularly and adequately informed about the scale and objective of raids, and did you have any control over this lever of policy?
there were two conditions under which this kind of military response was
initiated. First, a formal request, in which I was always involved, would be
made for approval for some military action. But, in an enormous proportion of
the operations, such action was reported only afterwards — that, for this
reason or another reason, the operation had developed in much greater scale
than the Cabinet had approved or that anyone had planned. But what could then
be done? If you take the Karameh raid in 1968 against the PLO base, there was
the statement that unexpectedly a large unit of the Jordanian Army was in the
way. Going back to the first
1. Dr. Gunnar Jarring was appointed as U N
representative to the
3. A small party that broke away from Mapai in 1965. Its leaders were David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan. In the crisis of May-June 1967, Rafi joined Mapai in a national unity government and Dayan became Minister of Defense.
4. The commission of inquiry, headed by Supreme Court President Dr. Shimon Agranat, appointed to investigate the failure to anticipate the Arab attack in October 1973.
5. The IDF raid on