Analysis / Now Is Not the Time for Political Games in the IDF

With political negotiations threatening new military developments, it is vital that Ehud Barak and his new IDF chief ensure an orderly handover.

In naming Yoav Galant as his pick for the Israel Defense Forces' 20th chief of staff, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has effectively laid a loaded pistol on the desk of his current chief. Though not set to step down until February, Gabi Ashkenazi is now expected to do the honorable thing and bring forward his retirement.

Ashkenazi now finds himself in the same position as his predecessor, David Elazar, the ninth IDF chief, in the wake of the Agranat Commission's report on the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Agranat recommended that Elazar should step down. The government, despite opposition from Yitzhak Rabin, a minister and himself a former army chief, upheld the recommendation. Elazar resigned immediately. The defense minister, Moshe Dayan – like Barak a former IDF chief – named Northern Command chief Mordechai Gur as Elazar's replacement.

IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Tomer Appelbaum, Moti Kimche, Alon Ron

Just like Rabin, Moshe Ya'alon, the minister for strategic affairs and yet another former IDF chief, on Sunday objected to the appointment of Galant – a move that consigns Ashkenazi, once Ya'alon's deputy chief, to early either departure or an ignominious half-year as a lame duck.

His confidants will no doubt advise him to bow to the national interest and head for the door.

Ashkenazi's involvement in the saga of the forged 'Galant document' has taken the luster off a reputation for competence accrued in the three and a half years since he replaced Dan Halutz – once his friend, later an enemy and now, it seems, again an ally and even a mentor.

If it was Ashkenazi's intention to expose unsavory machinations within Barak's circle and damage the minister by agreeing, directly or indirectly, to pass the Galant document to the press, the result proved more of a boomerang than a bombshell. Yet even had he chosen to keep his copy  locked away in his desk drawer and refused to let his associates drag him to the edge of the abyss, tensions with Barak would have continued to consume him.

Now, Ashkenazi would do best to ensure an orderly handover to Galant - presuming that a continuing police inquiry uncovers no more ugly details to make Barak's declaration of the succession seem unduly hasty.

If Galant wants to clear the air, his best course would be to approve a list of senior army appointment drawn up by Ashkenazi. His main rivals, Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz, are on the way out (after voicing opposition to Galant's appointment, there is no way back for them). we can now expect a rapid succession of promotions: Yair Golan to head of Northern Command; Tal Ruso to the South, maybe even Avi Mizrahi to deputy chief. After that, Galant can implement the next stage in the army's recovery by bringing back excellent officers who were forced out, like Gal Hirsch and Shmuel Zakai.

For Ashkenazi, it is a bitter end to his time in the IDF – although not necessarily to his public service – and the timing is unfortunate, coming just as new peace talks threaten sudden military developments.

Ten years ago it was Barak who found himself in a similar situation when as prime minister he bowed to pressure from his chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, to replace the deputy chief, Uzi Dayan, with Ya'alon and accept the resignation of Shlomo Oren, commander of the West Bank Division, after a friendly fire incident that killed three IDF troops. Gantz found himself parachuted in as Oren's untried replacement on the eve of rioting across the Palestinian territories.

Barak cannot correct his past mistakes. But now is not the time for shake-ups in the IDF.