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Was Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision not to extend Gabi Ashkenazi's term as Israsel Defense Forces chief affected by the main issue on the political agenda: the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities?

Former IDF chief Moshe Ya'alon was relieved of his duties in 2005, a mere few months before the disengagement, for several reasons, including an ongoing lack of communication with his superiors ? Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz (then prime minister and defense minister, respectively). But the main explanation given for the decision to not extend Ya'alon's term for another year stems from his reservations over the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements in Gaza.

Sharon and Mofaz knew that Ya'alon, a model of military obedience, would fully follow the government's orders. Nonetheless, they decided to replace him with Dan Halutz, who was far more committed to them and to the evacuation.

But the case of Ashkenazi is somewhat different. A government decision guaranteed him a fourth year as army chief with the option of a fifth in the event of "emergency circumstances."

Regardless of whether Barak's decision had anything to do with the Iranian issue, it will have a significant affect on how that issue is tackled. Ashkenazi will retire from the IDF in February 2011, two months after Mossad chief Meir Dagan is scheduled to retire from intelligence agency.

Within the balance of power in Israel's leadership, both Ashkenazi and Dagan were part of the moderate camp. While some of Israel's political leaders released messianic statements, the heads of the security forces took a more cautious position. Ashkenazi, as Israel's main envoy to the U.S. defense establishment, was well aware of the level of opposition in Washington to an Israeli strike on Iran.

Replacing the heads of the Mossad and the IDF will bring about a significant shift in the system of checks and balances regarding Israel's policy toward Iran.

In the best case scenario, the U.S. will succeed in passing a new round of sanctions against Iran only in June. If that happens, it will take at least several months before it will be possible to determine the sanctions effectively.

According to the most recent intelligence reports, Tehran will be able to produce a nuclear warhead within one to three years. Iran's rate of progress depends mainly on the Iranian regime's decisions and its assessment of the extent of global opposition.

Posted by Amos Harel on April 15, 2010

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