Inside Israel’s White House: How Netanyahu runs the country (and who his top advisors are).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults with his advisers at Blair House in Washington, May 2011. Gil Shefer is at far left. Dore Gold is at far right. Ron Dermer sits, second from the right, with back to camera in short-sleeved shirt. Yaakov Amidror (bearded), Yitzhak Molcho (partially obscured by Netanyahu) and former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser (black T-shirt, spectacles) are also at the table. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consults with his advisers at Blair House in Washington, May 2011. Gil Shefer is at far left. Dore Gold is at far right. Ron Dermer sits, second from the right, with back to camera in short-sleeved shirt. Yaakov Amidror (bearded), Yitzhak Molcho (partially obscured by Netanyahu) and former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser (black T-shirt, spectacles) are also at the table. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/Flash90/Times of Israel)

“Benjamin Netanyahu will complete his eighth (nonconsecutive) year as prime minister in March 2014, more than any Israeli premier except the state’s founder, David Ben-Gurion,” reports the Times of Israel. “And as the years go by, unsurprisingly, Netanyahu is leaving a deepening imprint on the way in which the country is governed.”….

“Bibi has a dialogical personality,” said one confidant who asked not to be named. “He makes decisions in the course of discussion. He needs a conversation partner to make those decisions.”

“Netanyahu takes a close interest in the views of those around him, confirmed another source familiar with the prime minister’s deliberative process,” notes the Times. “He’s always asking questions, interrogating you for your opinion, and writing down what you’re saying.”

“That aspect of Netanyahu’s personality is both an advantage and a crutch, the confidant added,” the article added. “The advantage: Netanyahu is ‘flexible and thorough’ when making decisions. ‘Every decision requires 10 discussions. He’s not hasty like some previous prime ministers.’ The disadvantage: ‘He can seem indecisive, fickle. No decision is final until it’s actually being implemented. Decisions often change in the course of discussion, both because his reasoning continues to develop and because those who know him well know how to focus their arguments to reach certain conclusions.’ Whether or not this personality trait is beneficial to forming national policy, there is no doubt it gives an outsize role to those who surround and engage the prime minister in those policy discussions. As power concentrates around a premier who gives added weight to his advisers’ views, those advisers are becoming increasingly important for any understanding of how the machinery of power is managed and critical decisions are made in the State of Israel….”

YOSSI COHEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: “For perhaps the most critical and sensitive discussions on the issue Netanyahu himself has called his government’s number one priority, the prime minister chose to send his newly installed national security adviser, Yossi Cohen,” says the Times. “When he appointed Cohen’s predecessor, former IDF major-general Yaakov Amidror, to the top NSC post in 2011, Netanyahu’s public statement left little doubt as to how he viewed the position. Amidror, he said, ‘will lead the National Security Council as a body central to determining Israel’s national and security policies.’ The two national security advisers who preceded Cohen were former Mossad head of intelligence Uzi Arad, a noted expert on the Iranian nuclear question, and Amidror, who has written extensively on the security challenges posed by neighboring Arab states and Palestinian terror groups. Both are known as wide-ranging strategic thinkers. But the choice of his newest adviser, a former Mossad number two, has raised eyebrows. Cohen is generally thought of as a keen operations man, say insiders, not a strategic and policy planning expert.”

“Yossi Cohen is an operational guy,” agreed a source close to the PMO. “He’s very much about implementation. But that’s also part of the NSC’s work. It prepares briefing papers for meeting foreign officials, writes briefings, handles a lot of day-to-day diplomacy. A lot of foreign governments speak to the NSC.”

“Cohen is one of a triumvirate of key national security advisers on whom Netanyahu relies on a daily basis, according to several sources familiar with the inner workings of the PMO,” according to the Times. “The other two are the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and the cabinet secretary, former chief military advocate general Maj. Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit.”

RON DERMER, ISRAEL’S NEW AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: “The NSC’s centrality is also highlighted by the fact that it took on most of the duties held by Netanyahu’s former adviser and new ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer,” the article stated. “The US-born Dermer, who cut his teeth in political consulting as a Republican pollster in the United States in the 1990s, held a unique position at Netanyahu’s side as a political adviser, foreign policy analyst, and a key source of insight into Netanyahu’s main foreign policy target: the United States. He left the PMO in March and was appointed ambassador to Washington in July. Tellingly, Dermer is not being replaced.”

“Dermer was personally close to the prime minister. His job was to be the close adviser,” said one former official. “Now the head of the NSC is filling that role.”

“There’s no doubt Dermer had a unique role with the prime minister,” said another source familiar with the pair. “They had a relationship that predates him taking office. [Dermer advised Netanyahu from 2008, a year before he became prime minister.] Now that Dermer has moved on to Washington, different parts of his responsibilities were divided up. A lot of it went to the NSC.”

YITZHAK MOLCHO, SENIOR ADVISOR ON THE PEACE PROCESS: “The growing centralization of policymaking around the prime minister is also highlighted by Netanyahu’s preference, like other recent premiers, for ‘external’ advisers, individuals who are given senior policy roles but are not government employees. The two key external advisers are attorney Yitzhak Molcho and former ambassador to the UN Dore Gold,” notes the Times. “While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the top political face of the peace talks with the Palestinians, Molcho is the personal representative of the prime minister. It is significant that as per Netanyahu’s instructions, the negotiators cannot meet without Molcho being present. A close personal confidante of the prime minister, who also serves as Netanyahu’s family attorney, Molcho has served as Netanyahu’s chief peace negotiator for many years, managing his contacts with Yasser Arafat during his first government in the 1990s, and again with Abbas since 2010.

DORE GOLD, SENIOR ADVISOR ON POLITICAL ISSUES: “Dore Gold…has a similarly long relationship with the prime minister, having served as a peace negotiator alongside Molcho in 1996-7, and then spending much of Netanyahu’s first term, from 1997 to 1999, as Israel’s ambassador to the UN. An outspoken activist — Gold has published three books in recent years about the radical ideology of the Saudi state, Iran’s nuclear drive and the future of Jerusalem — Gold has served as president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative policy think tank in Jerusalem, since his retirement from public service. Last month, it was announced that Gold would return to Netanyahu’s side as an external adviser. While Netanyahu has emphatically placed the peace talks in the hands of Molcho, US-born Gold’s experience at the UN and other international forums, his expertise in Middle East politics (he holds a PhD on the subject from Columbia University) and his knowledge of the United States suggest he will likely fill part of the role left vacant by the departed Dermer.”

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