ashkenazi - Moti Milrod - December 30 2010
Deputy Chief of Staff Gantz, right, with Chief of Staff Ashkenazi at a recent IDF ceremony. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the appointment of Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz as the Israel Defense Forces' 20th chief of staff.

"Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz is an outstanding officer and an experienced commander," Netanyahu told ministers following the vote. "His experience is vast both in terms of operation and organization. He is endowed with all of the qualities needed to be a wonderful commander for the Israel Defense Forces."

On Sunday evening, the army will hold its official farewell ceremony for its 19th chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi.

President Shimon Peres, cabinet ministers and senior IDF officials will all take part in the ceremony. It is not yet clear whether Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has been embroiled for months in conflicts with Ashkenazi, plans to attend.

Gantz's appointment was authorized last Thursday by the Turkel Committee for senior public appointments. No significant opposition to the appointment is anticipated at this morning's cabinet meeting, particularly considering that the Turkel panel did not find any ethical issues that might cast a pall on Gantz's service.

The official transition ceremony between Ashkenazi and Gantz will be held Monday morning at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. The farewell ceremony for Ashkenazi will be held at Tel Aviv University. According to an earlier plan, Barak was scheduled to deliver a speech at the ceremony, but continuing tensions between him and Ashkenazi have raised doubts that he will participate.

Ten days ago, in television interviews, Barak referred to "ethical, normative and professional problems" plaguing Ashkenazi's performance as chief of staff but refused to elaborate. In light of these remarks, it seems doubtful that Barak will be able to take leave of Ashkenazi on a positive note. Still, protocol requires that a ceremony marking the departure of a chief of staff be conducted according to standard procedures, which include the participation of the defense minister.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and a friend of Ashkenazi's, will arrive in Israel to bid farewell to the outgoing chief of staff. This will be Mullen's fifth visit to Israel since he assumed his post. He is also scheduled to meet with Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and Gantz.

Casting a dark cloud over Ashkenazi's departure is the publication this weekend of a new book, written by journalists Dan Margalit and Ronen Bergman, about the so-called Harpaz affair, in which a document was forged in order to influence the appointment of the IDF chief of staff and to hurt Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's chances of being selected.

The new book castigates Ashkenazi for his apparent involvement in the affair and analyzes his relationship with Boaz Harpaz, who forged the document, as well as the procedures connected to Galant's appointment as chief of staff before it was nullified.

The IDF spokesperson refused to comment on the book or to respond to questions posed by its authors, calling it "libelous and biased, aimed at hurting the chief of staff on the eve of his departure from the IDF."

Allegations made in the book are likely to reverberate in the media in the coming days, coinciding with the changing of the guard in the military.