At the height of a routine cabinet session, in the middle of August, between approving diplomatic appointments and receiving a briefing on the prime minister's imminent visit to Greece, the wooden door opened and in barged Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with a bomb to drop: I have chosen the next army chief of staff.
That's how it is when the prime minister and his defense minister are former Sayeret Matkal special ops officers: Everything is a surprise attack, a blitz, a knife-thrust. Not a hint of ceremony or even the semblance of debate. Barak, only a few days ago, before his bureau was cleared of blame, was like someone confessing while continuing to sin. He was drowning in the morass of the chief of staff selection process. Some of his cabinet colleagues described him as "stressed"; others called him "resolute." He looked as if he was charging a hill to plant his flag at the top, despite the ongoing police investigation into the Galant document, and before its alleged forger squealed to the police while being questioned under caution. Barak already considers the affair ancient history and Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant to be good to go.
In striking the cabinet ministers and to a large extent Netanyahu with his - yes, his! - chief of staff, Barak shows: 1. that he is the prime minister around here who deserves the name Mr. Security; 2. that he can impose his will on Netanyahu with regard to the candidate as well as the timing - six months before Netanyahu wanted it to happen - and the manner of the announcement. Along the way he also clobbered the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, with a 10-pound hammer, thus completing his campaign of vengeance. Barak experienced many moments of instant gratification yesterday.
The ministers raised an eyebrow, twice: Once at Barak's bomb, and again when Netanyahu announced his plan to appoint a committee to approve Galant's appointment, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel. The other members are former National Religious Party MK Gila Finkelstein and former justice minister Moshe Nissim. Finkelstein spent most of her adult life teaching religious girls. What does she know about picking a chief of staff? Perhaps that is actually a stroke of brilliance: In light of what has been revealed about the Israel Defense Forces General Staff in the past two weeks, what the committee needs is a teacher and counselor, if not a kindergarten teacher.
The only cabinet minister who jumped was Lt. Gen (res. ) Moshe Ya'alon. I propose not bringing the appointment to a vote next week, he said. Netanyahu and Barak ignored him. The ministers did not know whether he was upset about the appointee or the appointer. Ya'alon and Barak have a long history of disputes, disagreements and mutual recriminations. Ya'alon is known for objecting to everything Baraks says or does. It will be interesting to see how he votes when the time comes.
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