Defense Minster Ehud Barak announced yesterday "in coordination with the prime minister," Benjamin Netanyahu, that he will advise the cabinet this morning that he intends to recommend the appointment of Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz as the 20th chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. In his announcement, Barak underlined the need to dispel uncertainty and stabilize the defense establishment.
Barak has come to this conclusion, in all probability under pressure from Netanyahu, with regrettable delay. Barak dragged the cabinet and the IDF into the whirlwind of the nomination of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, a nomination that a petition to the High Court of Justice threatened to disqualify. This was followed by the proposed temporary appointment of Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Naveh as acting chief of staff for two months. Only after all the problematic alternatives were exhausted was Barak pushed into the correct choice, the appointment of a major general that is expected to be confirmed without difficulty.
In this sequence of proceedings, Barak lost much of his military prestige, to say nothing of the political power he depleted by defecting from the Labor Party and establishing the Atzmaut faction. If up to now he could claim special status as a former commander of the general staff's elite Sayeret Matkal special operations unit, as former chief of military intelligence and chief of staff, after his sustained assault on the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli public is not left with much confidence in Barak's judgment. He comes across as someone motivated by caprices and urges.
Politicians come and go, and so do governments. Without a stable IDF whose chain of command is distinguished by both its reliability and its capabilities, Israel would not exist. The Netanyahu-Barak government in recent months has betrayed its duty to provide security to the state's citizens and leadership to their army. Currently rehabilitation is needed in two areas: in the IDF, which has been tossed about between various factions, including one headed by the defense minister; and in relations between civilian society (and reserve soldiers ) and the senior military command.
Over the longer term profound change is needed in working relations at the senior officer level. It would also be appropriate to implement the recommendations made over and over, in a state comptroller's report last year, for example, to revise the pattern of senior IDF appointments. At the moment, Gantz's immediate duty - on the assumption that he is approved by the Turkel committee and installed into office - is to calm the defense establishment and prepare for military challenges in a volatile region, and to mobilize all the corps toward a sense of unity of purpose.
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