Israel Table of Contents

The supremacy of civilian authorities over the military has rarely been challenged in Israel's history. The Lavon affair of 1954 remains the major exception. Factors weighing against military interference have included the prohibition on active officers engaging in politics and the population's broad support for the nonpartisan behavior of the armed forces. Given the ever-present external threat to Israeli security, however, the military looms large in everyday life. This has led some foreign observers to call Israel a "garrison democracy." The military has also served as a channel into politics, with political activity providing a "second career" for retired or reservist officers after they complete their military careers, usually between the ages of forty and fifty. This phenomenon has left its mark on Israeli politics as high-ranking retired or reservist IDF figures have often "parachuted" into the leadership ranks of political parties and public institutions.

The most frequent instances of this tendency have occurred during the demobilization of officers in postwar periods, for example, following the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars. Until the June 1967 War, the great majority of reservist or retired officers joined Labor's ranks. In the 1950s, the first generation of such officers included Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yigal Yadin, Israel Galilee, and Chaim Herzog. After 1967, the number of such officers co-opted into the political elite rose sharply, with many for the first time joining center-right parties. Among those joining the Labor Party were Yitzhak Rabin, Haim Bar-Lev (bar, son of), Aharon Yariv, and Meir Amit. Ezer Weizman, Ariel (Arik) Sharon, Mordechai Zipori, and Shlomo Lahat joined Likud. Despite their widespread participation in politics, these exmilitary officers have not formed a distinct pressure group. The armed forces have generally remained shielded from partisan politics. The only possible exception was the IDF's military action in Lebanon in June 1982, which disregarded the cabinet's decision on the limits of the advance. The invasion occurred while Ariel Sharon was minister of defense (1981-83) and Rafael Eitan was chief of staff (1979-83); both individuals had stressed the independent policy role of the IDF.

More about the Government and Politics of Israel.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress