The Knesset plenum passed a new law on Monday that gives the prime minister and the defense minister the authority to declare war or start a major military operation without first obtaining the cabinet’s approval.
Under the existing law, before the amendment was passed Monday, it was the cabinet that had the power to declare war. The amendment now allows the prime minister and the defense minister to circumvent the cabinet in “extreme situations” and forgo a vote in a ministerial forum.
Such situations could arise in the event that there is no time for cabinet-wide deliberations or if sensitive information could become compromised if shared with the cabinet ministers.
In such cases, the new law—an amendment to Basic Law: The Government—allows the prime minister to launch a military campaign after consulting only with the defense minister.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed for the passage of this amendment, having earlier ruled out a softer version that would have given the authority to declare war to the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet—a smaller forum comprising key ministers—rather than the entire cabinet.
A number of Knesset members warned that this amendment would help Netanyahu exclude ministers who oppose his decisions from the decision-making process, facilitating opposition-free voting. Yesh Atid Party faction head Ofer Shelah noted that “the members of the coalition voted against their beliefs, under coercion from the prime minister, on a matter of life and death. Netanyahu’s contempt for everyone around him and for everything that we have learned from our many wars has now overpowered many good, experienced lawmakers.”
However, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who submitted the bill for the amendment, argued that “the law simply sustains what already happens in reality anyway” since the cabinet already had the power to delegate its authority to smaller forums, such as the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet.
“In the age of social media, with the threat of leaks,” she continued, “we need to adapt to the current security, diplomatic reality and streamline the government’s and the cabinet’s job as much as possible.”