War plans, air strikes, appointments; Lieberman's new role
With Avigdor Lieberman's appointment to defense minister comes a whole world of accountability - from life and death decisions during wartime, to making sure Israel stays quiet while at peace; Here are some of Lieberman's new responsibilities
Preceding him are the likes of Pinhas Lavon, Levi Eshkol, Moshe Arens, and Amir Peres. But if there's one thing that everyone agrees upon, it's this; Lieberman will not receive a single ounce of respect when he arrives at his new office on the 14th floor of the Ministry of Defense building.
Lieberman will be at the head of a fourteen member staff, five of whom are high ranking military officers including the Military Secretary who is a brigadier general, and the Assistant to the Military Secretary who is a Colonel.
Others hold civilian positions such as the Defense Ministry Chief of Staff, Spokesperson, and the Chief Political Advisor. These are the people who will rely on Lieberman's decisions and edicts every day.
The appointment of high ranking officers
The minister of defense typically isn't actively involved in appointing high ranking IDF officers. However, the two major exceptions are for appointing officers to sensitive positions such as the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the head of the Intelligence Directorate. Although any officer obtaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above needs the Minister's approval, this is more of a formality than anything.
Defense ministers don’t tend to interfere with appointments made by the Chief of Staff; however, traditions can be changed. At the end of the day, they will require Lieberman's approval, and it is now within his rights to exercise his authority and cancels or freeze promotions in rank as he sees fit.
The defense minister also has influence over who becomes the commander of Israel Army Radio, the military censor, and the Chief Military Advocate General – even more influence than the IDF Chief of Staff himself.
Israel Radio and the Military Censor deal with news and entertainment, while the Military Advocate General deals with criminal law within the IDF. Therefore, if the current government is able to maintain power and complete its term in 2019, it's possible that Lieberman will be required to appoint a new chief.
Lieberman's views may affect who is chosen to be the next Chief Military Advocate General and its operational policies, including how the IDF deals with war criminals or suspected illegal harm to Palestinians.
Additionally, Lieberman will sit at the head of the committee drawn up by the next President of the Military Courts, a general who will need to implement Lieberman's proposed legislation regarding a death penalty for terrorists.
He will also have the authority to choose who will be the Head of Security for the Defense Ministry, and will also have the authority to approve and amend budget proposals.
Operations outside of Israel's borders
The minister of defense has the authority to approve any and all IDF activity outside of Israel's borders, including Israel Air Force strikes on Gaza. IDF leadership is guided by the political leadership, especially during the interwar periods, and this political leadership has been at the head hundreds if not thousands of secret operations, including several preventing Hezbollah and Hamas from obtaining advanced weapons capabilities.
Typically, the defense minister will allow these types of operations after the plans are developed, and after the limitations and reasoning behind the operation are understood. The plan can be anything from a submarine being sent to Iran to gather intelligence, fighter jets bombing an arms shipment in Sudan, or Special Forces operations in far off countries. Lieberman will have the ability to approve as many of these operations as he sees fit on any given day.
Operations against enemy actors or states.
While Lieberman dealt with sensitive issues during his time as Foreign Minister, he will now be the one who decides if and how Israel cooperates on an operational and intelligence level with Arab actors. It could be anything from security cooperation with the Palestinians to joint intelligence gathering with Arab countries on Israel's border and beyond - behind closed doors of course.
Civil Defense permits in the West Bank
Former Defense Minister Ya'alon, in conjunction with the IDF, led the approach of separating terror from the Palestinian community to keep and restore quiet in the most recent wave of terror. Now, Lieberman will be the one who will decide on imposing West Bank closures, or whether or not to take steps against the Palestinian population, such as by refusing entry and work permits into Israel, or by freezing monetary transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
Lieberman will also be entrusted to approve or deny administrative detentions against price tag perpetrators, and whether or not to build more settlements or expand existing ones. Additionally, he will be responsible for the decisions to tear down illegal structures; both Jewish and Palestinian.
Arms acquisition and military buildup
As defense minister, Lieberman will be entrusted with acquiring weapons from all over the world for all of the branches of the military. While Ya'alon wasn't close to anyone in the White House – especially after he called US Secretary of State John Kerry "messianic" – Ya'alon still outlined clear Israeli proposals for US military assistance to the people underneath him.
Lieberman will need to learn the IDF's needs quickly to use as leverage against the Americans vis-à-vis military aid, but he will need to also know how to prioritize between different types of security assistance. For instance, he will need to know which is more pressing for the IDF; parts for the Iron Dome, or precision guided missiles for the air force.
The defense minister at warAssassinating high ranking Hezbollah and Hamas officials, planning division maneuvers in Lebanon or Gaza, policy regarding Iron Dome deployment, evacuating towns and villages under enemy fire, air strikes on hundreds of targets – all this and more are arrive on the defense minister's desk during a war awaiting his approval, and will arrive on Lieberman's desk during the next round of fighting with Hezbollah or Hamas.
Lieberman will need to approve, deny, or request additional information to make level-headed decisions under high pressure – decisions which sometimes must be decided in minutes. He will be acting with the knowledge that everything he signs off on, and all of the results therein - be they positive or negative - will have a direct affect on the perception of the war amongst the general Israeli public, on Israel's deterrence factor vis-à-vis enemy state and non-state actors, and perhaps most importantly, the number of dead Israeli soldiers at the end of the war.
Spirit of a commanderThe only place where the defense minister will have no authority is the place where his support may be felt the most – on the individual soldier.
Lieberman doesn't have the authority to give the fire commands, nor does he have the authority to decide tactical moves on the battlefield when, for instance, a soldier is kidnapped. However, as someone who will be able to approve the next generation of high ranking IDF officers, it's hard to see how his bellicose attitude will stay out of the situation rooms in "The Pit" in the IDF Military Headquarters, in the various commands, or in the infantry battalions.