Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recently quoted in The New York Times suggesting that Israel is prepared to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program even without U.S. support.
“If someone sits here as the prime minister of Israel and he can’t take action on matters that are cardinal to the existence of this country, its future and its security, and he is totally dependent on receiving approval from others, then he is not worthy of leading,” the Prime Minister said, adding “I can make these decisions.”
In the debate over the best way to approach the Iran nuclear standoff, Mr. Netanyahu is frequently at odds with other senior leaders, both in the U.S. and in Israel. Officials on both sides assert that there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions to work. There is also general agreement that while the military option is still on the table, military action would come at a potentially high cost.
Above all however, there is a general consensus that policy options towards Iran should be weighed carefully and through a strategic lens.
As such, Mr. Netanyahu’s comments should be read with an understanding of the Israeli decision-making process. Within the national security establishment the Prime Minister is not the only voice that matters in a decision to exercise military force. Indeed, a small security cabinet unofficially referred to as the “octet” has a great deal of influence over such decisions.
Detailed information on the Israeli decision-making process is hard to come by, but The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake provides an informative overview. Composed of eight influential ministers, including the prime minister, the octet does not decide matters of national security, but rather serves as a forum for consultation and ultimately to reach a consensus on a particular course of action.
According to former Israeli national security official Chuck Freilich, the consensus of the octet will weigh heavily on the formal decision-making process that takes place within the full cabinet.
Indeed, as Lake describes, “Israeli law requires that major national-security decisions… must receive a majority vote in either the full cabinet or a smaller ministerial committee on national security …But in practice, the decision of the octet is most vital.”
The consultation and consensus of the octet will therefore be required prior to any military action and may well determine the subsequent policy decision.
Thus, given the strong consensus among Israeli and U.S. security experts that military action would be unwise and possibly counterproductive at this stage, it is to be hoped that decision makers employ strategic, fact-based analysis when weighing policy options towards Iran.