The Galant Imbroglio / Turkel, the flotilla and Iranian nukes
Yesterday was a day of breathtaking political drama - starting with the announcement of a split in the Labor Party's Knesset faction, and ending with the state's dramatic announcement to the High Court of Justice of new findings by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss regarding an allegedly illegal land grab by the Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff-designate, Yoav Galant. The bottom line is that Ehud Barak will apparently stay on as defense minister for longer than expected, but Galant's promotion to chief of staff is now in doubt.
The allegation that Galant illegally seized land near his home in Moshav Amikam first surfaced in a report in the Maariv daily more than two years ago. But the Turkel Committee, which vets senior civil service appointments, discussed the issue only briefly before approving Galant for the top military post.
What reopened the case was an independent inquiry by Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, who passed his findings on to Lindenstrauss, and a petition to the High Court against Galant's appointment by environmental groups. The recent prosecutors' strike delayed a hearing on the latter, but Lindenstrauss went straight to work.
The state is due to submit its response to the Galant petition on Thursday, but a postponement now seems likely. Next week another committee headed by former Justice Jacob Turkel, this one investigating May's botched raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, is due to publish its conclusions. If the High Court criticizes Turkel's handling of Galant's appointment, it could undermine the credibility of his flotilla inquiry.
Galant is due to take office on February 14. Even if the court has cleared his appointment by then he will be starting with a handicap, after months of attacks on his suitability for the job. If not, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi may have to stay on until the issue is settled.
While yesterday's twin dramas may seem unrelated, there is a thread that links them: Iran's nuclear program.
And while Barak, as usual, paid lip service yesterday to the peace process, the chances that Israeli-Palestinian talks will resume are slim.
What really unites Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a desire for more aggressive action against Iran, which is now likely to top the revamped government's agenda. And if so, the question of who sits in the chief of staff's office will be more important than ever.