On January 12, the spokesman of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) announced the resignation of Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meiras head of the Research Division due to differences of opinion with the chief of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi. According to several prominent Israeli media channels, the dispute revolved around disagreement on the way the Research Division should be managed — along with personal differences between the two senior officers. Such a situation is extremely rare, especially since Ben-Meir was assigned to his position only a year ago — the term usually lasts three or four years.
Rare as it is, this event is a good opportunity to examine one of the most intriguing anomalies among intelligence agencies in the Western world. Unlike in the United States, where the body responsible for the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — a civilian organ — the responsible official in Israel is a military officer. With recent dramatic changes in Israel’s intelligence community leadership, it will be interesting to see if there will be changes to Israel’s national assessment structure and practice.
The head of the Research Division is one of several brigadier generals in the Military Intelligence Directorate. His direct commanding officer is the head of the Intelligence Directorate, who in turn reports to the joint chief of staff (JCS). The latter reports to the minister of defense, who is part of the government under the prime minister.
However, the same head of the Research Division is also called “the national estimator” — i.e., the most senior official responsible for the national strategic assessment. He reports directly to the prime minister, minister of defense and cabinet without the need to get preliminary approval for his assessment from his superiors in the military. In this capacity, the head of the Research Division is expected to deliver an independent intelligence assessment regarding practically every geopolitical, social and economic challenge that Israel faces — now and in the future — regardless of the opinions of his direct commanders, the head of the Intelligence Directorate and the JCS.