In a perfect world (maybe not) before entering politics the Minister of Education would have been a teacher, the Minister of Health a doctor, and the Minister of Finance an economist. Not to mention a Prime Minister who would be required to have studied at graduate degree level government and management. Such a world doesn’t exist.
So why should the Minister of Security (in Hebrew), translated as the Minister of Defense (in English), have to be a former general?
Well, in Israel, security and defense are special. That is the reason why some people are opposing the appointment of a Minister of Defense who has not been a general. Well, maybe also because he speaks with a Russian accent. Well maybe also because his political party and indeed him have views that some people consider radical. Well, maybe because they are also jealous.
Now, let’s look at democracies around the world. How many of their Ministers of Defense are former generals. The USA doesn’t have one, neither does Britain or France. So that makes the three nuclear powers that are also democracies. These three countries premiers also don’t have military experience. These three countries also have aircraft carriers and project their military might around the world in many wars. So who makes the decisions?
The civil and military elites work together. That means there is respect for authority, legitimacy, expertise and professionalism. Those elected determine policy by, for and of the electorate. Those that implement policy advise on what is feasible.
This is no different in Israel. So the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense may make a policy suggestion. The Chief of Staff of the military will advise. Even in instances where the Minister of Defense has been a general he still needs advice. For example if he was a paratrooper he would need advice from the air force in deciding policy on striking nuclear facilities in Iran. The Chief of Staff may also approach the political echelons with suggestions based on expertise or necessity.
Such policy processes are well formalized institutionally for example in a forum such as the Security Cabinet in the government. On a day to day basis the thousands of people employed in the military and in the Ministry of Defense make decisions and implement them. They act professionally based upon the policy framework.
It is the Director General of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the military that are their superiors. In many instances the political echelons inherit decisions taken many governments previously, for example weapon procurement.
So all in all and combined the civil and military elites work together. In a democracy, such as Israel, the public are the first to know when this is not happening. The press report it instantly and governments fall.
Hence I wish congratulations to the new Minister of Defense, who I hope will not have to make a policy decision about war. But if he needs to, I am confident that the Chief of Staff will be professional in his advice.