The year 1986 was one with a disturbing twist for Israel, analysts here say. It produced a numbing succession of crises and scandals that were homegrown rather than imposed by outside enemies. ``Sometimes I think we want to live in a state of permanent crisis,'' says Yitzhak Galnoor, a professor of sociology at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. ``Most of our crises are self-made: Irangate; the General Security Services; the Pollard spy case; Vanunu.''
The root cause of Israel's self-inflicted crises, some analysts argue, is a failure of leadership. Each crisis cited by Professor Galnoor displayed aspects of the leadership style of politicians shaped in the pre-state and early state days, a time when breaking rules was considered an essential ingredient of state building.
``At the beginning, the state supplemented what it lacked in material goods with wit and improvisation, and that is a legitimate arsenal,'' says Yeshayahu Anug, a senior diplomat with the Foreign Ministry. ``There were certain rules of behavior that were so successful, a willingness to swim against the stream, underestimating insurmountable obstacles, believing in luck. All of these became acceptable instruments of statemaking.''
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was one of three leaders of the most extreme Jewish underground group that fought against British rule before 1948. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres served as an aide to Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Mr. Peres's first overseas mission for Israel was to buy arms covertly in the United States and illegally ship them to the fledgling Israeli Army.
``You have to remember that whatever Shimon has accomplished was accomplished outside the establishment, by defying the establishment,'' a Peres aide says. ``This is an overwhelmingly dominant variable in the decisionmaking process. It is what makes Shimon tick, Shamir tick, and to a lesser extent, Rabin.'' Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was an officer in the Palmach, the elite strike force of mainstream Jewish underground forces during the British Mandate.
Sometimes, working outside the system or taking risks has produced spectacular successes that have captured world imagination and restored Israel's sense of self-confidence. In 1976, when Mr. Rabin was prime minister and Peres defense minister, Israeli commandos pulled off a daring rescue of hijacked airline passengers at Uganda's Entebbe Airport. In 1984 and 1985, Israel secretly flew thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel from refugee camps in Sudan, again capturing headlines and restoring for a time Israel's belief in itself as a refuge for all Jews.
Entebbe and the airlift are the upside to Israeli improvisation, Israeli analysts say, the side that tends to feed the myths born in the drama of the state's creation.
``Improvisation is a big part of the myth, the myth that things will get done only this way, by cutting corners,'' Galnoor says.
Mr. Shamir, Peres, and Rabin today form the triumvirate that makes most key decisions in Israel's coalition government. The nature of the government - it controls 97 of 120 seats in parliament - makes these men more powerful than they normally would be. There is no effective opposition to government policies.
All three men are politicians who value daring and an ability to deliver. They are used to operating in secrecy, to running enormous risks, and to breaking rules when necessary, Israeli analysts say.
``These people behave as if we are still in the pre-state period,'' Galnoor says. ``They have this tendency to operate as if the whole enterprise is one big conspiracy. They actually prefer secrecy, and most Israelis tend to agree with them.''
In the US-Iran arms affair, Israel joined the US to secretly supply arms and spare parts to Iran. Israeli officials say then-Prime Minister Peres saw the operation as a chance to show the US Israel's value as an ally and its ability to deliver in a risky venture.
In the General Security Services scandal, the instinct to preserve the secrecy shrouding Israel's powerful internal-security service, coupled with their trust in the GSS head whom they both had known for decades, apparently prevented Shamir and Peres from investigating the 1984 GSS murder of two captured Palestinian bus hijackers. Shamir was prime minister when the Palestinians were killed. Peres was prime minister when three GSS officials came to him with allegations that then-GSS head Avraham Shalom had ordered the Palestinians killed, then covered up the killings during inquiries. The persistence of former Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir eventually forced Peres and Shamir to agree to a police investigation. The investigation results, published last week, found that Mr. Shalom ordered the killings and engineered the cover-up.
``A very serious price has been paid for the failures of both our prime ministers in the [GSS] case,'' political scientist Yosef Goell wrote in Friday's Jerusalem Post. ``Perhaps the most serious is the profound undermining of public and security services' confidence in the premiership as an institution.''
Some Israeli analysts believe the Jonathan Pollard affair was a classic example of Israeli ``chutzpah'' - nerve. Mr. Pollard, an American, pleaded guilty and was convicted last year of spying for Israel. Israel officially apologized for the incident and closed the Defense Ministry unit that had handled Mr. Pollard. But the man who ran the operation, Rafi Eitan, was made head of the state-owned Israel Chemical Industries, a move that infuriated US officials. Some officials here have suggested that Peres, worried about the damage done to US-Israeli relations by the Pollard affair, subsequently got involved in the US-Iran arms deal in an effort to restore Israel's credibility with the US.
Mordechai Vanunu is the nuclear technician who last year leaked to a London newspaper what he said were photos, sketches, and descriptions of a secret Israeli nuclear-bomb manufacturing plant. Shortly after Mr. Vanunu sold his material to the London Sunday Times, he disappeared. He eventually turned up in Israel, where he now faces espionage charges. Vanunu said he was ``hijacked'' from Rome to Israel in September. But to most Israelis it seems reasonable that the government would have ordered him kidnapped, and there was no public outcry.
The danger Israel faces, critics contend, is that the unorthodox is gradually becoming the norm. Also, that the kind of acts that created the state and have since become enshrined as legitimate policy options may now actually endanger Israel - by straining relations with the US and other members of the international community, and by eroding internal respect for law and the political system.
Americans were shocked to learn when the Iran arms affair broke that members of President Reagan's National Security Council had operated like ``cowboys'' out of the White House basement. The US Congress, press, and public expressed outrage over the apparent willingness to break the rules. Americans running the operation are alleged to have thwarted Congress's will and to have circumvented the appropriate channels in pursuing a covert plan to sell arms to Iran and use some profits to arm Nicaraguan rebels.
There was no such outcry here over Israel's involvement in the affair. There also was no public outcry for an investigation into the GSS scandal, or any public debate over Vanunu's allegations that Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear bombs and the ability to make hundreds more.
Here, an analyst says, cowboys don't operate out of basements; they are in the Cabinet, the prime minister's office, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry.
``This is a very Eastern European-style economy and bureaucracy, in the sense that it is a vast and lethargic, highly centralized system,'' says Avishai Margalit, a Hebrew University professor. ``To be a macher [Yiddish for ``big shot''], to be someone who can deliver by cutting through the bureaucracy or going around it, is the definition of leadership here. There also is a higher tolerance of politicians lying than in the [US].''
The respect many Israeli leaders show for those who run risks and bend laws, critics here fret, has gradually weakened the rule of law, dulled public outrage, and deepened public cynicism.
On Friday, a letter from Deputy Attorney General Yehudit Karp calling for the reinstatement of the three GSS men who originally went to Peres about Mr. Shalom was printed in Israeli newspapers. In the letter, Ms. Karp, who helped investigate the affair, appealed to Attorney General Yosef Harish to either reinstate the men, who were fired from the GSS for their revelations, or to publicly thank them.
This should be done, Karp wrote, ``out of recognition ... that, without people like this, the rule of law cannot prevail.''
The Karp letter is the latest example of the concern shared by a growing number of Israeli lawyers and judges that the highest political echelon of Israel is actually weakening the state's institutions.