Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi arrives in Brussels today, where he will be participating in a conference of military commanders from NATO countries and their allies.

His colleagues at the conference, including the chairman of the NATO military committee, Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, will take leave of Ashkenazi, who is due to retire on February 14. Filling in for Ashkenazi until he returns to Israel toward the end of the week will be Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Naveh.

The fact that Naveh will be holding down the fort at the IDF during Ashkenazi's stay in Brussels does not make it a foregone conclusion that he would be appointed acting chief of staff if there is a delay in the installation of Ashkenazi's designated successor, Yoav Galant, over questions raised about the propriety of his use of land around his Moshav Amikam home. It does not seem that there are any legal obstacles preventing Galant himself from serving as acting chief of staff until the matter is resolved.

What is not clear, however, is whether Defense Minister Ehud Barak can still promote Galant, with the cabinet's approval, from major general to Ashkenazi's current rank, lieutenant general. The primary importance of the post of chief of staff, and this would include an acting chief of staff, is that he is the supreme commander of the IDF, without reference to his military rank.

There is prior precedent for the appointment of an acting chief of staff. Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Hofi, for example, was appointed acting chief for two weeks after the 1973 Yom Kippur War after Chief of Staff David Elazar resigned. Elazar stepped down following the release of the Agranat Commission report in 1974.

Prime Minister Golda Meir's cabinet appointed Hofi acting chief of staff while she and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan deliberated over a permanent candidate, ultimately choosing Mordechai Gur.

A farewell party for Chief of Staff Ashkenazi is scheduled for February 13, even if it is not entirely clear who will assume his post the following day.