The boundaries of responsibility
Eitan Ben Eliyahu
Begin Center Diary
18 August '10
On May 10, 1981, the Israel Air Force was busy with last-minute preparations for an attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. But then Menachem Begin, who was both prime minister and defense minister, decided to cancel the mission. Begin had received a letter from the head of the opposition, Shimon Peres, objecting to the operation. And if the news had leaked to Peres, Begin thought, it might also have reached the enemy.
Another possible strike date was May 31, but since Begin was due to meet with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in Sharm al-Sheikh on June 4, the operation was postponed until June 7 to avoid undermining the summit. Thus Begin used his authority to decide whether or not a military operation that was about to be launched would actually be implemented.
In his recent testimony before the Turkel Committee investigating Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, Defense Minister Ehud Barak distinguished between the "what," which is decided by the government, and the "how," which is the province of the army. But in truth, to this day, no formula has yet been found to properly define the relationship between these two bodies. Barak's definitions of "what" and "how" attempted to draw a clear line between the parties' respective authorities, but the most important question lurks in the area where they overlap.
Military action is supposed to complement diplomatic action, pave the way for it or, sometimes, substitute for it. Therefore, the first question that needs to be answered is "why" - in other words, is there any reason for the military action?
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