Cross-posted from Gush Shalom
The army is supposed to obey the elected government. This obedience is unconditional.
But the army (including land, sea and air forces) is the only potent armed force in the country. It can carry out a coup d'etat and grab power at any given moment.
In recent months alone, army commanders have carried out coups in Egypt and Thailand, and perhaps in other places, too.
So what prevents army commanders carrying out coups everywhere? Just the democratic values, on which they were raised.
IN ISRAEL, a military coup is unthinkable.
Here is the place to repeat the old Israeli joke: the Chief of Staff assembles his senior commanders and addresses them: "Comrades, tomorrow morning at 0600 hours we take over the government."
For a moment there is silence. Then the entire audience dissolves into hysterical laughter.
A CYNIC might interrupt here: "Why should the army bother with a coup? It governs Israel anyhow!"
In civics classes, we learn that Israel is a democracy. Officially: "a Jewish and democratic state." The government decides, the army follows orders.
But, as the man said: "It ain't necessarily so."
True, there has never been a case of high-level military disobedience in Israel. The nearest we ever got was the case on the eve of the 1967 war, when Prime Minister Levy Eshkol hesitated to give the order to attack, and several impatient generals threatened to resign. Also, a colonel resigned in protest against the plan to attack Beirut in the 1982 Lebanon war.
But even during the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a moment of supreme emotional crisis, when the public was deeply split, there was no act of refusal. The army carried out the orders of the government.
But the role of the army in national politics is far more complex.
JUST NOW, the army is involved in the annual ritual of the budget fight.
The army says it needs much more than the Finance Ministry says it is able to give. It is a question of national security, nay of national survival. Terrible dangers are mentioned. After a bitter dispute, a compromise is reached. Then, a few months later, the army comes up and demands some billions more. A new danger is looming on the horizon. More money, please.