Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet will this week give outgoing National Security Council chairman Uzi Arad a formal send-off. The tribute will be well-deserved.
Strongly principled yet eminently pragmatic, and a true professional expert on foreign, diplomatic and defense policy, Arad has provided brainpower to Israel’s leaders for almost 40 years.
He spent more than 20 years in the Mossad, culminating in the post of director of intelligence. It is well-recognized that he was one of the Mossad’s most effective intelligence officers. Andy Marshall, long-time director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, has called Arad a top global defense strategist.
Arad was a loyal adviser to Netanyahu in the latter’s first term as prime minister, and then founded the celebrated Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel’s National Security. The Herzliya Conference became prestigious and influential because of Arad. He devised the unique format, oversaw the writing of position papers, invited the many top-tier foreign experts, and drew in the country’s leaders.
This time around, Arad served his prime minister in multiple capacities: as a top foreign policy adviser, a trusted diplomatic envoy and as NSC manager.
Arad practiced responsible statecraft. He was principled but not rigidly ideological on key matters such as the Jerusalem-Washington relationship. More importantly, he did not give in to the rash demands of foreign leaders and the Left for “new Israeli diplomatic initiatives” every two months. In an age when diplomatic and military adventures are costly, Arad would say: Maneuver with prudence and calibrate your moves with caution.
ARAD ASSEMBLED the country’s first real interagency National Security Council, with a staff in the Prime Minister’s Office of 60 people, 25 percent of whom are former officers and the rest academics and diplomats.
Over the past two years, the NSC under Arad conducted the essential interagency coordination and integration that the law demands. Its staff properly prepared cabinet meetings, and produced hundreds of policy memoranda and briefs to back up Netanyahu and his ministers – a product many orders of magnitude beyond that of previous administrations.
Moreover, Arad fought for the NSC to be heard and upgraded, knowing it would be an uphill battle. The IDF has long dominated cabinet-level national security decision-making – something that is supposed to be balanced out by the civilian NSC (according to the 2008 National Security Council Act). Organizational change of this type is always difficult, but Arad fought tooth and nail. He also paid a personal price for his tenacity.
Largely, Arad won out. His functional and geographical proximity to the prime minister, his personal relationship with Netanyahu, and his presence in real-time decision-making situations gave the new NSC a real role.
Arad also routinized NSC-to-NSC contacts (or their equivalents) with the US, Germany, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, India, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and others – something that stood the country in good stead in dozens of diplomatic situations. Arad played a key role in fostering the US-Israel relationship at a time when the two did not always have the closest of relationships.
The same is true of multinational security organizations such as NATO. Arad has been the key player in developing Israel’s elevated ties and cooperation with NATO, going back to his academic years. From within the Prime Minister’s Office, he further enhanced this. Arad’s counterparts in this and other organizations always knew that, even if they didn’t like his conservative line of thinking, he possessed intellectual heft and had the full backing of Netanyahu. They knew he was a credible, articulate and authentic voice of Israel.
As is well known, Arad can be domineering and demanding, and this was the source of some discord in the Prime Minister’s Office – discord that has been exaggerated, of course, by the media. But having worked closely with Arad (as a board member and spokesman of his Herzliya Conference in its early years) and borne the brunt of his occasional ire, I know that this is mainly because Arad doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He demands no less of himself than he demands of others. His devotion to the job at hand – service to the State of Israel and the Zionist enterprise – is absolute.
Arad’s softer side is little known. Over the past 15 years, he has adopted and mentored dozens of young immigrants, giving and finding them jobs, teaching them advocacy skills, introducing them to policymakers and businessmen. Arad’s shop at the IDC was a virtual immigrant absorption center.
In many ways Arad is sui generis: An accomplished intelligence operative who became a top-ranked professor; a staunch conservative thinker in an era when “intellectuals” and the highbrow classes are generally liberal and left-wing; a man of rightist principles who is dogmatically pragmatic; a short-tempered man who holds a steady long-term view of things.
Arad was one of the longest-serving national security advisers, and his departure now, while regrettable, is not unusual or unsurprising. However, the NSC has not yet been fully ensconced in its proper place within the national security decision-making apparatus.
Hopefully, Arad’s successor will be able to solidify his predecessor’s manifold achievements.
* This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post  on Sunday, March 6, 2011.