Published On: Wed, Jun 15th, 2016

A collapsing policy

Op-ed: The Israeli perception that says foreign policy is merely a subsection of security policy is leading to the erosion of the Foreign Ministry and its stature.

PM (and FM) Neyanyahu speaking (Photo Kobi GideonGPO)

Israel’s foreign policy is in collapse. This is not a sudden or momentary collapse either, but a general and systemic breakdown, born of a distorted conception immersed into the system over the years.

Israel’s national security policy isn’t clear or sufficient or up-to-date, which is a systemic problem in its own right. Absurdly, one of the only clear things about it is the absence of the component that’s supposed to be among its most important and foundational: a well-thought-out diplomatic and foreign relations police that are the result of a long-term strategy.

The main challenges facing Israel, including those related to security, are diplomatic at their core. Israel’s conduct, however, is mostly based on improvisation and fire-dowsing. A long-term, planned foreign policy isn’t seen as an essential component of the country’s national security policy. Even worse, a planned-out foreign policy is seen as impossible and impractical, due to the assumption that Middle East chaos won’t allow for it. That’s one of the reason for Israel basing its security policy on military and intelligence strength, as opposed to diplomatic sophistication and stately power.

Foreign policy is seen, at best, as subservient to security policy. That perspective represents a deep and dangerous failure of imagination. Israel, which faces heavy, complicated state-security challenges, doesn’t have the privilege of basing its foreign policy on improvisation. This is a severe perceptional mistake, which causes direct and concrete harm to the country’s national security.

The first to fall victim to this perception was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In any proper nation, the foreign ministry (or its equivalent) is the central body in charge of planning and implementing the country’s foreign policy. But in Israel, the MFA is at an unprecedented low point. There is not a full-time foreign minister, and the ministry is used to fulfill the prime minister’s political needs. (The foreign minister portfolio is currently held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —ed.) The ministry is currently suffering a continuous decline in stature. Many of its responsibilities have been handed out to other government ministries, its public image is shaky, it lacks budgetary means to confront the relevant challenges, and it is plagued by frustration, depression, and despair.


Foreign Ministry director-General Dore Gold. His institution's power has been steadily drained. (Photo MFA)


Meanwhile, Israel’s most important state matters are handled by the PM and his personal representatives, not by the experienced professionals at the MFA. The country’s public diplomacy center, which was supposed to be run by the MFA, has been spread over five government bodies, which are mostly suspicious of each other and hesitate to share information.

The defined role of certain offices in charge of certain professional areas is often terribly inconsistent with the infrastructure afforded them. One of the main examples is the lack of ability to combat BDS (a boycott movement against Israel)—a fight that is mainly political and diplomatic, not economic.

I sponsored a bill meant to restore the Foreign Ministry’s stature in the previous Knesset, intending to make it the leading government authority on foreign policy, diplomacy, and public relations. The prime minister and his people made sure to prevent the bill from coming to fruition. On Tuesday, at the Herzliya Conference, the subject was to be discussed.

The public, and most professionals, seem to think that the Knesset committee responsible for overseeing all of this is the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But the perceptional and cultural change we need will only occur once we realize that the government’s thinking on the matter doesn’t reflect the name “Foreign Affairs and Defense.” The way they see it, foreign affairs are merely one part of the defense whole.


By Dr. Ronen Hoffman, the head of the Herzliya Conference. He is a former member of the Knesset, where he served as chair of the subcommittee in charge of foreign policy and public relations inside the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee


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