Memo to Winograd: Strategic Support Unit for the Prime Minister

Reut Institute recommends the establishment of a Strategic Support Unit in the Prime Minister's Office to help the Prime Minister ask the right questions, reveal working assumptions presented to the Prime Minister and identify blind spots.

The Second Lebanon war ended with the concern that the conduct and performance of the political and military leadership before and during the war was unsatisfactory. This concern led to the establishment of the Winograd Committee in order to evaluate, among other things, the institutions and decision-making processes that influenced the management of the war.

The Reut Institute contends that most of the management problems exposed before, during and after the war derive from structural failures related to the electoral system and the structure of the Government of Israel, as well as to the weakness of the Bureau of the Prime Minister'. These failures will re-occur unless a structural change is made.

The two major structural problems in Israel's national security conduct are: (a) The gap between the weakness of the tools at the government's disposal and the magnitude and complexity of the challenges it faces; (b) The gap between the weakness of the PM and the strength of the professional bureaucracy, which compromises the ability of the PM to design policy in areas in which neither he nor his team have sufficient knowledge or experience.

The implications of these structural weaknesses are exacerbated due to the gap between the dominance of the defense establishment, on the one hand, and the shift of Israel's national security challenges to the non-military realm, on the other hand (see Appendix A of Reut's document to the Winograd Committee).

The weak link of Israel's policy apparatus is the PM. In the absence of an overhaul of the election system, the PM has to be strengthened. A more effective National Security Council (NSC) is not enough. Even if the NSC grows in size and has full access to national security decision-making, it will not improve the ability of the PM to shape policy or to deal with an empowered national security advisor.

Therefore, Reut recommends to establish a Strategic Support Unit in the Bureau of the PM:

  1. The Aim: To help the PM ask the right questions - The unit will specialize in preparing the PM for meetings and discussions with the professional bureaucracy in order to help the PM fully evaluate the alternatives that are presented.

  2. Unique Added Value: Revealing working assumptions presented to the PM and identifying blind spots - The Strategic Support Unit will specialize in exposing tacit working assumptions and testing their relevance based on the information presented to the PM and other sources. The Strategic Support unit will not independently collect or analyze intelligence information, nor will it plan policy or monitor its implementation.

  3. Size: 6-10 government employees working under the Chief of Staff of the PM; Code of Conduct: Military-intelligence; Training: Multidisciplinary.

This document deals with the design of national security policies by the Bureau of the PM. Nonetheless, its contents are also relevant for civilian spheres and for other government agencies.